A company looking to build a massive solar project in Butte, Montana claims it would provide 300MW of renewable power and cost $250 million, Gizmodo reported. That’s according to Madison River Equity LLC, whose parent company also manages cryptomining outfit Atlas Power. As Gizmodo reports, Madison would build the solar array, then sell it to Atlas, which hopes to use it to power its cryptocurrency mining operations. If the solar farm, dubbed the Basin Creek Solar Project, is actually built, it could be one of the largest in the US, but it raises questions about the impact of such projects, and about crypto’s impact on energy.
While the project would theoretically allow Atlas’ mining and other data center operations to run on renewable power, there are arguments that green energy doesn’t actually make crypto itself green. There’s still the problem of e-waste that’s generated when hardware is no longer profitable, and the question of what will happen if there isn’t enough solar power available to fuel the mining operation. And while the massive solar project does seem to be in line with the goals of some (including Elon Musk) in the crypto community who are trying to move away from fossil-fuel powered mining operations, it also shows the problems that can crop up when trying to create a green energy project, especially one that will be run by a company focusing on crypto.
According to the Montana Standard, the Butte-Silver Bow zoning board recently turned down another energy project that was also looking to use residential land, citing nearby residents’ aesthetic concerns. The Standard’s report also includes similar concerns from Butte residents about ruined views regarding the Basin Creek Solar Project.
There are also some community members concerned about whether the extra electricity generated will actually benefit Butte, or if it will be sold elsewhere. Add to that the allegedly colorful past of Atlas Power’s owners — the company used to be called CryptoWatt — and it’s understandable why residents would be wary.
At the moment, the fate of the Basin Creek Solar Project (and possibly the fate of Atlas Energy’s mining expansion) seem to be in the hands of the Butte-Silver Bow zoning board, which will meet on June 17th to discuss whether to allow the solar array to be built on what is currently private land.