From the Texas Tribune:
Jacob Rodriguez was driving a John Deere tractor in a West Texas cotton field when he received a phone call that would change his life.
“I was pulling a 59-foot air seeder … and at the same time I was on the phone having my interview,” Rodriguez, 29, said.
On the other end of the phone early this year were representatives from a new business that was coming to Dickens County, a community of around 2,000 people an hour east of Lubbock.
By March, Rodriguez had quit farming cotton — something he called “just another job” — and began training to work in a cryptocurrency mine.
The county had exactly what London-based Argo Blockchain was looking for: plenty of open land and easy access to affordable power, thanks to a large wind farm built there more than a decade ago.
Texas political leaders have been promoting the state as a destination for companies producing bitcoin and other digital currencies, touting the state’s reputation for low taxes and cheap power. Around 30 have come in the past decade, and dozens more have expressed interest in moving to Texas.
But instead of moving to the state’s large urban areas — which have the extensive infrastructure and large workforce that attracts most relocating companies — cryptocurrency companies have largely done the opposite and located in rural areas, according to Lee Bratcher, president of the Texas Blockchain Council, a group promoting crypto growth and innovation.
Crypto companies have been welcomed by many small towns hungry for an economic boost. Argo Blockchain opened its 125,000-square-foot Helios facility in Dickens County in May and hired a couple dozen locals, including Rodriguez. It has also added $17 million to the local tax base, according to Kevin Brendle, the county judge. The county’s overall assessed property tax value is $283 million, he said.
That economic infusion has allowed Dickens County to cut county property taxes by around 1.5%, give small raises to county staff, and purchase new equipment for the sheriff’s office and for road and bridge improvements.
“The end result is enhanced services to the community,” Brendle said. “We’re going to be able to do a better job of serving them, and we’ll be able to be competitive in our wages.”
In Milam County, northeast of Austin, a large crypto facility owned by Riot Blockchain that opened in 2020 has added hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars for the local tax base, according to County Judge Steve Young. He said the boost in taxes has allowed the county government to pay for basic services such as road improvements. When the crypto company needed to employ contractors for various projects, it hired locally, he added.
Crypto mining involves using powerful computers to produce digital currencies, called tokens, which can be used like traditional money to make online purchases. The crypto transactions run through computers rather than through a centralized entity like a bank, with the goal of providing people the ability to achieve wealth outside the traditional financial system.
The computers require large amounts of electricity. The scores of crypto companies requesting permission to connect to the power grid would use nearly as much electricity as the city of Houston, according to Texas’ power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
That has raised questions about whether the state’s power grid — which infamously crashed in February 2021 during a powerful winter storm, plunging millions of Texans into darkness for days and killing hundreds — can handle that much additional demand. But energy experts said ERCOT and the state’s power transmission companies won’t allow any large power user to connect to the grid unless there is enough power supply.
Like some other industries, crypto companies can shut down operations when high demand puts stress on the grid. This summer, when the grid operator asked Texans to conserve electricity due to tight grid conditions, Bratcher said crypto companies quickly shut down.