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Bitcoin mining: Old-fashioned fuel to power new technology

In part two of Action 16 Investigates: Crypto, a look at how cryptocurrencies are already playing a role in the economy of our area.

NESQUEHONING, Pa. — More than a century ago, coal miners helped settle the valley in Carbon County that's home to Nesquehoning.

Now, the remnants of that coal mining past are being used to power a new kind of miner — thousands of computer servers stored in shipping containers on the property of a power plant along Nesquehoning Creek.

It's the brainchild of entrepreneur Bill Spence. His company, Stronghold Digital Mining, has made the place into a bitcoin mine. It's still a functioning power plant that uses an old-fashioned fuel to power a new technology.

The servers are powered by something we're used to seeing just sitting around in northeastern and central Pennsylvania. Stronghold burns coal waste that's shipped in from all over the state.

"We're getting rid of a problem that otherwise is just covered up or is brushed aside. These piles have been here for hundreds of years, and I like to think bitcoin and cryptocurrency is playing a big role now in getting rid of these sites," Spence said.

Spence receives state funding to help remove coal waste. The plant goes through 90,000 tons per day.

Cleaning up coal waste is Spence's passion. Cryptocurrency is what he says helps to make the business profitable. About 24,000 servers are constantly running through computations to earn bitcoin, which can be turned into cash.

But the servers shut off when the grid needs power, and the coal waste is then used to power homes instead. Spence said that happens at least a few hours each day.

"What we've been able to do with cryptocurrency is sustain it so that we're able to run and also support the grid on it, day in day out basis, whenever they call on us or need us to run," he added.

The power plant in Carbon County used to have 17 employees. Under Stronghold, it has more than 70.

"We have young guys here in the crypto yard who have technology degrees, and we have some pretty tough old coots like me out in the coal plant working, so they seem to get along and work well together," Spence said.

The Nesquehoning plant isn't the only place or the only kind of energy being used to mine bitcoin in our area.

The company that owns the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station nuclear power plant near Berwick is building a bitcoin mine right next to its cooling towers.

It will be called Nautilus Crypto Mine.

John Augustine, the president and CEO of economic development agency Penn's Northeast, says bitcoin may help the nuclear plant in Salem Township survive.

"There's hundreds of workers at that facility, and we've seen other nuclear facilities close, so when you can strengthen that economic base, that's a great thing," Augustine said.

The plant's owner, Talen Energy, hopes to start mining bitcoin by the end of this year — new technology meeting our area's industrial past.

"Couple hundred years later, continuing that legacy of mining just in a completely different, digital way," Augustine added.

Watch Part 1 of Stacy's investigation on YouTube:

 

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