This week we talk the crypto future of the Ponderay Newsprint Mill in Usk, plus Jimmy Kimmel picks the Zags.
Valerie | Attracted by Usk, Washington’s cheaper hydro-powered energy, a California investment firm and a Chinese crypto-mining giant are setting out to make the town the next crypto-capital of the United States.
The Ponderay Newsprint Mill shut down operations in 2020, laying off about 140 people, in a town whose population is just over 1,200. Then in May 2021, Allrise Capital Inc. won an auction for $18.1 million for the entire 927-acre property. Reporters from The Spokesman-Review have been following this story since the initial shutdown, as it had a huge impact on the local economy.
Allrise and its CEO Ruslan Zinurov initially said they would restructure the mill to produce cardboard, giving those jobs back to area workers. But they’ve appeared to ditch that plan in favor of full on crypto-mining. Now they’ve already got about 90 shipping containers on site filled with crypto-mining hardware, Thomas Clouse from The Spokesman-Review reports. Allrise is working with crypto-mining giant Bitmain, a Beijing-based company known for its computationally “efficient,” specialized mining machines.
In cryptocurrency “mining,” powerful computers solve sets of complex math problems that verify blockchain transactions, which creates the cryptocurrency. Some currencies, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, use a “proof of work” system that is extremely energy-intensive—even the "efficient" mining machines still burn through tons of power.
Cryptocurrency has led to a sort of gold rush, with miners setting up shop wherever power is cheapest. After China banned cryptocurrency mining in 2021, many mining companies in the country simply scooched over to Kazakhstan, which initially welcomed them with open arms. This includes BitFuFu, a mining company backed by Bitmain.
However, when Kazakhstan began facing electricity grid blackouts and civil unrest months later, the country started shutting down and throttling power to miners. BitFuFu ended up abandoning an estimated 80,000 mining machines at the end of 2021 to start over in the U.S., Naubet Bisenov and Meaghan Tobin report in Rest of World.
Now, the U.S. is seen as the next big mining spot in the world, with cheap power, better infrastructure, and more business protections than countries like Russia, which miners considered. In the last several years, rural—oftentimes struggling—towns all over the U.S. have been turned into crypto-mining towns.
Allrise, a private equity firm that invests in real estate and specialty markets in the U.S. and Ukraine, had beaten out the Kalispel Tribe in their bid of $17.5 million—a difference of $600,000. This auction was a tipping point that could’ve seen a local organization determining the operation’s future.
Speaking to The Spokesman-Review, Deane Osterman, Executive Director of Natural Resources for the Kalispel Tribe, said the Tribe is cautious about supporting the plan, wanting more information on how this will exactly affect the area.
Environmentally, that is a huge concern. The original paper mill drew about 70% of the Pend Oreille Public Utility District’s electrical load, which amounts to 87 megawatts. Allrise has initial approval for 100 megawatts, but it’s even going to take some time to ramp that up.
And the requests for power keep changing too. According to The Spokesman-Review: “The PUD gets about 90 average megawatts from the Box Canyon Dam. It gets another 48 average megawatts from Seattle City Light-Boundary Dam, and it is allocated 25 megawatts from the BPA.”
Bitmain said they would “contribute to the development of up to 500 megawatts of clean digital mining infrastructure,” according to the cryptocurrency newsite Cointelegraph. We don’t have to break out the math napkins to understand that 500 megawatts is vastly more power than the utility is used to handling or providing to anyone.
Just because this site will run on hydropower doesn’t mean it’s free from harmful environmental impacts.
When a mining facility in Plattsburgh, New York, used up the town’s allocation of cheap power, rates for electricity shot up in 2018, Marketplace reported. In some cases, utilities or plants have to resort to non-renewable energy to supplement the power needed to run these operations. In Seneca Lake, NY, residents are complaining that a power plant that’s pretty much exclusively used for mining is warming the lake and causing algae blooms.
Plus, opponents argue that even “sustainable” crypto-mining uses up available clean energy, pushing back climate goals and keeping us dependent on non-renewable energy.
“If you put green energy into bitcoin miners you need to up your fossil-fuel imports. You’re just displacing the problem,” Alex de Vries, an economist who created the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, told the Wall Street Journal.
And while cryptocurrency—particularly Bitcoin—is increasingly viewed as a viable form of currency that is gaining a foothold in our world, it’s an extremely volatile industry.
Rockdale, Texas, was a crypto boomtown just a few years ago. Bitmain had a plan to turn its shuttered aluminum plant into “the world’s largest Bitcoin mine.” But when Bitcoin’s price fell in 2018, more than three quarters of their 3,000 workers lost their jobs, Fortune Magazine reported.
RANGE is a reader-supported publication. Help us grow by becoming a paid subscriber.
(PLUS until March 20, we have a group of Rangeheads who will match each new $10 member by donating $20. So if you sign up now, it will triple your impact!)
THE WEEK IN VIRAL
Elissa | “Gonzaga’s gonna go all the way. We love Gonzaga,” declared late-night host Jimmy Fallon on Monday’s Tonight Show broadcast. To celebrate March Madness in college basketball, Fallon said The Tonight Show likes “to pick a team to do something fun with every year.”
This year, the “something fun” means distributing custom Tonight Show “rowdy rag” towels to Gonzaga students for the first-round game on Mar. 17.
Fallon instructed students to whip those towels above their heads at the 11:35 mark on the game clock (a nod to the time his show airs) and sing some slightly modified lyrics to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” with choreography, please.
While Fallon admitted The Tonight Show can’t send a camera crew, he encouraged Zags fans to share video footage on their social media.
Speaking of Gonzaga and viral news, three Gonzaga philosophy professors — Doctors Maria Howard, Charles Lassiter, and Greta Turnbull — are quoted in a Mar. 14 Slate piece by Stephen Harrison titled, “On TikTok, Philosophy Is Getting Edgy … or at Least Concise.”
The article explores philosophy TikTok accounts, including one run by Gonzaga’s own philosophy department. Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Charles Lassiter — who believes the TikTok platform is not “inherently anti-intellectual” — told Slate, “If philosophers don’t make their stuff accessible, we’re going to die as a discipline.”
Lending a critical voice to the piece, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Dr. Greta Turnbull expressed frustrations that popular philosophy creators on TikTok seem to reflect the same lack of diversity as the field itself: “Philosophy TikTok is white and male because philosophy itself is like that,” said Turnbull, who added that she didn't even have a female philosophy mentor until late into her graduate studies.
SAYS IT ALL
“‘I know the history of how I came to own it,’ Beth says. ‘It wasn't because I went and put a gun up against somebody's head. But it was because somebody went and put a gun up against somebody’s head, and the goods are still ill gotten, and I'm still in possession of them.’”
—Beth Robinette, quoted in Ashley Ahearn’s KUOW piece, “This rancher believes her land was stolen from Native Americans. She’s making amends”
GOOD NEWS, FOR ONCE
‘Burg’s Number One
Elissa | It’s official! College radio station 88.1 The ‘Burg — broadcasting out of Central Washington University in Ellensburg — took home the title of Best College Radio Station in the nation after this March’s Intercollegiate Broadcast System conference.
Jack Belcher of Ellensburg’s The Daily Record reports that The ‘Burg won two additional awards: “Best Phone App” and “Most Creative/Innovative Show” for “Electropolis,” a student-hosted Friday program that has aired for about a decade. Students say “Electropolis” has the feel of “a live concert with multiple DJs who mix their own set.”
Belcher reports that CWU senior and station staff Danny DeBock credits these big wins in part to the leadership of general manager Tommy Skaggs, who green-lit a student pitch to expand beyond top-40 musical programming, giving “students the freedom to create their own content and find their niche.”
*CW: Sexual assault*
Elissa | A doctrine in sexual assault cases that’s been called “inaccurate,” “archaic,” and “harmful” is now history. As David Gutman reports for The Seattle Times, last Thursday the Washington Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the “lustful disposition” doctrine may no longer be used as evidence in sexual assault, rape, and molestation cases.
For the last century, Washington State has allowed legal use of the “lustful disposition” doctrine, a concept dating back to adultery cases in the church courts of England. (Um, yeah, sounds like it’s beyond time for a re-think.)
Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis wrote for the court:
The term ‘lustful disposition’ is “outdated language that paints a picture that the offender has an overpowering sexual desire for or attraction to their victim. This implies that these motivations are natural and fails to acknowledge the inherent violence in sex crimes and the life-changing impacts such crimes can cause.”
Lustful disposition, the court has decided, amounts to “misplaced focus on sexual desire” that “in turn reinforces these myths that excuse sex offenders by blaming victims.”
The switch to no masks and few Covid cautions can be jarring. If you haven’t yet, listen to our podcast episode on the pandemic, chronic trauma, and how to build resilience.