An aerial view of Gold River. (Photo/Village of Gold River)

An aerial view of Gold River. (Photo/Village of Gold River)

Gold River eyes Bitcoin mining for old mill site

Bitcoin mining and data centres approved as use on industrial lands

Back in the late 1700s, Spanish explorers searching for gold named a Vancouver Island river Rio de Oro; or Gold River.

Though the village which was named after the river made more of a name for itself with forestry and the pulp and paper industry, a potential new project could spark a resurgence in the “gold rush” mentality.

At their March 21 meeting, the Village of Gold River made Bitcoin mining an allowable use for industrial-zoned land in the village. The move was to take a step forward on a proposed project to build a Bitcoin mining facility at the old pulp mill site owned by West Coast Marine Terminals.

“This isn’t saying the project is a go, it’s just another stage of it,” said village Mayor Brad Unger. “What it does is for that piece of property, it just allows this type of work.”

Bitcoin mining is the process of creating new Bitcoins. Basically, a Bitcoin mining operation is a collection of computers that solve mathematical problems and receive rewards. These rewards are Bitcoin. However, in order to get the reward, the computer has to be the first in the world to solve a given problem. That leads to needing more and more computing power to solve a problem. Bitcoin mining is becoming more and more energy intensive. According to Statista.com, as of March 14, 2022 one Bitcoin transaction used an estimated 2,258.49 kWh to complete. However, one Bitcoin is worth $55,299.81 CAD as of March 24.

The project will need to go through a system impact study with BC Hydro. Though it is very energy intensive, Unger does not think the operation — if approved — will have much of an effect on the Gold River power grid.

“Back when the mill site was running, it had it’s own power grid,” Unger said. “It used between 100 and 125 megawatts. This project will use five megawatts, and it won’t be on our village grid.”

The company behind the project is called Ocean Falls Blockchain. They currently operate a cryptocurrency mining farm in Ocean Falls B.C., also located at an old mill site. According to an Ocean Falls press release, that site operates at two megawatts, and is run using clean energy.

“The initial results from the viability tests look great,” said Oded Orgil, CEO at Ocean Falls Blockchain about the Gold River project. “We are very excited for this partnership, it would mean a milestone achievement for Ocean Falls’ pursuit of clean energy solutions to support the backbone of decentralized networks like Bitcoin.”

The project will make use of BC Hydro’s hydroelectric power, which has less of an environmental impact than fossil fuel-based electricity.

Unger said that the village council is interested in supporting a variety of initiatives at the mill site, including the ongoing aquafarms project, and potential greenhouses; which have the potential to use some of the excess heat generated by the Bitcoin mining operation.

“West Coast Marine Terminals is committed to making that site… a multi-use site,” Unger said. “We all know what happened when there was just the pulp mill, when the pulp mill went down, that was the end of it. It’s been 22 years since then and we’re still trying to do our whole economic development. Council strongly supports redevelopment of that site and if West Coast Marine Terminals comes forward with something, we’re going to support it.”

“We believe this potential partnership is a pivotal opportunity for West Coast Terminals to bridge our strategic interests and access to infrastructure in Gold River with the growing Canadian blockchain technology sector,” said Kent O’Neill, General Manager at West Coast Marine Terminals.

The project is anticipated to start construction later this year. Construction will support 20-25 jobs, and once the Bitcoin mine is up and running it will create five to eight jobs.

“The project may only make 5-8 jobs, but that’s 5-8 families that aren’t working,” Unger said.

“The project, more jobs, more industrial companies working on the site is more tax dollars for the village tax base.”

RELATED: First Bitcoin machine arrives in northern B.C.

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