A cryptocurrency “mining” facility, a brand new type of development for Bulloch County — but already established in neighboring counties and elsewhere in Georgia — is moving through county zoning approval processes.
It won’t be a literal mine digging into the outside world, but a large collection of banked server-type computers inside steel modules, like shipping containers, mounted on concrete foundations surrounded by a gravel pad. Computers mine the data to verify transactions made with encrypted digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which exist independently of governments. Computer racks generate a lot of heat and are therefore equipped with many cooling fans, which continuously make noise.
This has raised concerns among neighbors at the site, which sits at the intersection of Georgia Highway 119 and the 119 Spur across Mud Road southeast of Stilson. But the data center, while only expected to create one job, would be a huge electricity customer for Metter-based Excelsior Electric Membership Corporation and a source of tax revenue for local governments and the school system. of Bulloch County.
“It’s a new facility that represents a capital investment of about $30 million, but there are no full-time jobs. It is largely an unmanned facility,” said Greg Proctor, CEO of Excelsior EMC.
The data center would employ a maintenance technician, county officials say, but may not have a full-time technician just for that location, Proctor said. The site will be fenced and monitored remotely using a security system including video cameras.
“But there’s going to be a capital investment that they’re going to pay ad valorem taxes on, it’s going to use a lot of energy, and so it’s going to pay sales tax on the energy they use there,” said Proctor. “So in that respect it’s very similar to any other new business that comes into the county.”
Some county officials have suggested that the data mining center’s operating company could pay Excelsior a few million dollars a year for electricity.
When questioned on Friday, Proctor would not disclose the site’s expected annual electricity bill, as potentially proprietary information from an EMC customer.
But he agreed that an estimate of around $200,000 in annual tax revenue for local governments was “in the ballpark.”
Consider that the proposed facility is rated at 10 megawatts, which local officials say is only a fraction of the power consumption of some cryptocurrency mining operations elsewhere in the country.
But 10 megawatts is 10 million watts, or 10,000 kilowatts. The average monthly electricity consumption for a home in 2020 was 893 kilowatt hours nationwide and 1,081 kilowatt hours in Georgia, according to US Energy Information Administration reports, available at www.eia.gov.
A 10 megawatt data mining center operating at maximum power would use 10,000 kilowatt hours in 60 minutes.
“Their biggest contributor is the cost of electricity, and electricity rates in Georgia are below national averages, so they look at Georgia and they look at other states that have electricity rates below the average,” Proctor said.
That was his answer when asked why so many cryptocurrency mining companies are setting up shop in Georgia. Relatively cheap land and low taxes are sometimes also cited as factors. A Chinese-Canadian company awarded a contract last year to build a cryptocurrency center in the Screven County Industrial Park near Sylvania. Another, served by Altamaha EMC, operates within the city limits of Swainsboro in Emanuel County.
The Bulloch County cryptocurrency data center would be a first for Excelsior EMC, which would not operate the facility itself but secure the site for a company or group of companies, called LN Mining, which operates that of Swainsboro.
The currently proposed site sits on the nearly 5.5-acre lot of an electrical substation owned by Georgia Transmission Corporation, which in turn is owned by 38 Electrical Member Cooperative, or EMC, in the state. It owns and maintains high voltage transmission lines and EMC substations.
Excelsior EMC has the option of purchasing an acre or a bit more in GTC’s substation property for the crypto-mining operation, Proctor said. A diagram filed with the County Planning and Development Office shows this as a long rectangle within the larger parcel. Along with the rectangle are 11 others, apparently representing the processor modules or their support slabs and the small office or maintenance building.
Gets a P&Z nod
On Thursday evening, the application to permit a cryptocurrency mining operation as a conditional use in an AG-5 agricultural zone was submitted to the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission for a hearing. With only four of its seven members present, the council voted 3 to 1 to recommend approval, with personnel terms, to the elected Bulloch County commissioners. Commissioners are expected to receive the request, with a rehearing, at their 5:30 p.m. meeting on August 2.
But it won’t be the first time they’ve heard of it. On June 7, the commissioners passed an amendment to the county’s zoning ordinance to permit cryptocurrency mining operations as conditional uses in zones Ag-5, Light Industrial, and Heavy Industrial.
“A conditional use allows the local government to consider each individual request, and based on that specific site, we would develop conditions that would mitigate any of the factors that would be of concern, or at least we try to mitigate it,” said Planning and Development Director James Pope.
The amended order also sets specific limits on the loudness of sound any crypto data center can generate. Excelsior EMC referred county personnel to an audio engineering consulting firm with experience in these installations. Bulloch County officials, including commissioners, also toured the Swainsboro facility before passing the amendment.
“We took into account not only the decibel level, but also the pitch variation. …,” the pope said. “You know you can have noise that varies with the pitch going up and down, and that’s more aggravating than just constant noise.”
Exactly how this should be checked and the permitted variations for different frequency ranges are specified in the ordinance. But the more general rule is that the continuous sound level at the nearest occupied home or with a “defined sensitive receiver” should not exceed 50 decibels at night or 45 decibels during the day.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov has a chart citing the hum of a refrigerator as an example of a noise registering 40 decibels and normal conversation or the sound of an air conditioner registering 60 decibels. Incidentally, the way decibels work, 60 dB is 10 times louder than 50 dB and 100 times louder than 40 dB.
Noise was the top concern cited by three residents who spoke in opposition at Thursday’s hearing. Two of them were a married couple, Ken and Lynette Williams, who built their retirement home in Bulloch County and moved there just a year ago.
“I don’t want to listen to these fans running. I just moved here a year ago, and moved out to the country for some solitude, and that’s enough with (Highway) 119 when they put all the rumble strips on,” Ken Williams said. to the zoning board.
But Proctor spoke to the three neighbors after the meeting. One of the things he told them was that Excelsior EMC had an option on five acres of land next to the substation as an alternate site that might allow more room for sound buffering or other changes.
On Friday, Williams said he still had concerns but appreciated the power company trying to address the noise issue.