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'Belligerent' Crypto Miners Prompt Power Utility to Beef Up Security

A public utility in one of the U.S. hot spots for bitcoin mining is adopting new security measures in light of harassment of some of its employees.

The steps are being taken by the Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington County – as previously reported, the area has attracted a number of bitcoin miners because of its abundant access to hydropower sources. Yet “confrontations” between staffers and would-be mine operators, as first reported by The Wenatchee World, has sparked a drive to add new cameras, install security panels and institute other actions.

On Monday, Chelan County PUD director of corporate security Rich Hyatt briefed the district’s commissioners during a meeting, attributing the moves to “belligerent behavior by impatient cryptocurrency miners” who are reacting poorly following a moratorium imposed on new bitcoin mines.

Hyatt explained:

“Some of the things we’re doing internally, we’ve got a lot of business security measures, at [headquarters] we’ve [installed] a lot of security panels, we’ve increased the camera coverage. We’ve also designed and are going into the construction phase for a very small store front lobby that would give employees a lot more security without having personnel or customers being able to walk right into their work area. We’re monitoring those areas.”

He also described new measures being taken to dissuade unauthorized bitcoin miners from setting up facilities, saying his office was making agreements with the chief of police, the county sheriff and the county prosecutor to investigate and potentially prosecute repeat offenders.

“We … have an agreement with those agencies that we could use [them] as the mechanism that when we prepare a case and gather the evidence and establish probable cause, we can take that case through their detectives and that can help the county for prosecution considerations,” he said.

The agency has also trained its personnel on how to deal with potentially hostile people by installing panic buttons for front-line staff and adding security officers able to spot “negative body language,” he said.

Security camera image via Shutterstock

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Washington State County Shuts Down 'Unauthorized' Crypto Miners

A utility in Washington State – a popular location for bitcoin miners – has cut off electricity to three “unauthorized” sites that officials said posed a risk to public safety.

The Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) said Monday the three mines – located separately in Wenatchee, Malaga and Chelan – were “using enough power to create fire risks for neighbors and damage grid equipment not sized for the load.” For that reason, utility officials disconnected the power at those sites.

“Not only are we concerned, we’re incensed that individuals are putting people at risk,” PUD Commissioner Steve McKenna said in a statement issued April 2. “We’re not going to tolerate it. This is a strong message, and I want to make that very clear.”

The PUD said that in the future, rogue operators could face potential legal repercussions for power theft and public safety endangerment. However, PUD commissioner Garry Arseneault clarified that any heightened restrictions would focus on unknown mining operations, and not miners that are approved and followed the rules.

Arseneault was quoted as saying:

“What we’re discussing is a person who is purposely trying to slip around the end and use power in a way that a facility was not designed for and doing so in a manner where there’s been no request for service. … I see yet, once again, a reason to support the installation of automated meters to be able to confront these scoundrels before they do burn an apartment building down and perhaps kill a family or children in the process.”

Chelan County – a region known for its abundant hydropower – is an attractive site for industrial-scale miners, who tap the region’s comparatively cheap power to maximize profits.

Yet the PUD imposed a moratorium on new bitcoin mines last month, citing safety concerns, as previously reported.

Other local governments in the area are reportedly making similar moves.

Wenatchee, for example, recently passed new cryptocurrency mining ordinances. According to Koho 101, the city joined Chelan City, Leavenworth and East Wenatchee in restricting bitcoin mining operations.

Bitcoin mining image via Shutterstock

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Washington State County Moves to Limit New Bitcoin Mining Firms

The public utility from a county in Washington state long known as a destination for power-hungry bitcoin miners has said it will stop reviewing applications for new operations.

Members of the Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD)’s board of commissioners voted unanimously to stop reviewing applications for mining facilities and similar data research projects on Monday, following a review of the current impact by existing operations. Chelan County has some of the lowest electric costs in the nation thanks to its hydropower resources, making it attractive to cryptocurrency mining companies, as previously reported.

The current load from the operations already set up are beginning to impact the county’s overall electric grid capacity, said General Manager Steve Wright, according to the release. This is resulting in public health and safety concerns, as well as possible threats to the district’s planned growth.

“Rogue cryptocurrency operations” are also taking power which the county could be using elsewhere, according to the release.

Commissioner Randy Smith said in a statement:

“We do need time to take a deep breath and work through the issues and this may be the best approach.”

There will be a public hearing on the moratorium on May 14. Before the moratorium can be lifted, PUD staff members will review the cost carried by mining operations, the consequences for unauthorized firms, and establish how best to serve the unique demands of the industry.

The moratorium comes days after the city of Plattsburgh in upstate New York implemented a similar measure. Plattsburgh officials also cited the power demands commercial mining operations produce, noting that it had caused residents’ electricity bills to spike.

Unlike Chelan County, Plattsburgh’s moratorium will lift in 18 months or sooner, provided that officials can establish guidelines and standards for commercial mining operations before then.

Hydroelectric dam image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.