10 August 2021

A sustainable solution for bitcoin mining in B.C.’s rural communities

Graham Templeton  •  Postmedia Content Works

Iris Energy’s new bitcoin mining data centre is powered by clean, renewable energy, supports local First Nations and creates long-term jobs


Yaqan Nukiy Nasukin Jason Louie speaks to a gathering of local First Nations, Iris Energy and the CLTC where a $500,000 contribution from Iris Energy was announced. PHOTO BY MORGAN TURNER /CANADIAN PRESS


Iris Energy, an Australian headquartered company that owns and operates a Bitcoin mining operation in eastern B.C., has announced an ambitious plan to build strong, positive connections with local First Nations. Based in Canal Flats in the East Kootenays, Iris Energy has pledged $500,000 each year that its data center remains in operation, to be divided equally between the four local Ktunaxa Nation Council communities – the Akisqnuk, Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it, ?Aq’am, and Yaqan Nukiy. In addition, Iris Energy will work with these communities to identify training and job opportunities.

Iris Energy CEO Jason Conroy highlights that the commitment underscores “the importance of supporting local First Nations on whose traditional lands we are operating, of sharing some of our success with them in respect and appreciation for their history on that land.”


Mining bitcoin with hydro

Bitcoin mining is the process of using high-powered computers to secure the global decentralized Bitcoin network. Bitcoin miners are remunerated based on the amount of computing power that they direct to the network.

Iris Energy built its Canal Flats Bitcoin mining data center at a high-tech business centre created on the site of a defunct lumber mill, now called the Columbia Lake Technology Centre. It opened with a 6 megawatt data centre and now the operation is in the final stages of expanding to 30 megawatts by marrying their Bitcoin mining to green hydroelectric power sourced from BC Hydro.


Engagement is crucial to any large rural project

One of the potential difficulties in building a data center facility of this type is its impact on the local community. Whilst larger cities are ill-suited to provide clean power at large industrial sites, the company found an interested community in Canal Flats with both the space and underutilized grid capacity it needed – but the facility had to benefit everyone if it was to achieve Iris Energy’s goal of supporting rural communities both economically and socially.

Well-known B.C. business figure Brian Fehr, a strategic investor in Iris Energy, helped the company engage with the local First Nations. The project had always planned to bring new, long-term jobs to a rural community facing economic uncertainty, but Fehr knew connecting with local First Nations and sharing some of the data center’s success with them was also of significant importance.


Iris Energy built its Canal Flats Bitcoin mining data center at a high-tech business centre created on the site of a defunct lumber mill, now called the Columbia Lake Technology Centre. PHOTO BY MORGAN TURNER /CANADIAN PRESS


In a recent ceremony at Canal Flats where Iris Energy made the initial $500,000 contribution, Yaqan Nukiy chief Jason Louie presented Fehr with an otter pelt as a sign of the new relationship.

“We hope this is just the start of our relationship with the Ktunaxa First Nations, and that over time we will form a deeper relationship of mutual respect and cooperation, providing opportunities to create further employment and other programs together,” Conroy says.

“That is our vision. By creating long-term jobs at both our existing and new sites, we hope to be part of the solution to the challenges facing rural communities and First Nations, as well as our environment.”


Sustainable bitcoin mining is on the rise

It’s no secret that bitcoin mining can consume a significant amount of power, which can result in the release of large amounts of greenhouse gases. Worldwide, the search is on for sources of green power that can run large data mining operations. B.C.’s strong fiber-optic infrastructure linking to a large number of shuttered mills and other large industrial sites with existing access to clean, underutilized hydroelectric power can make for perfect data center locations.

Iris Energy has plans to expand its operations to several rural B.C. communities in the near future. The ambitious expansion plan will see Iris Energy’s overall capacity in B.C. increase to a total of 180 megawatts over the next 18 months.


A bright (green) future for bitcoin in B.C.

Iris Energy plans to mirror its approach at Canal Flats at each of its new sites, focusing on collaboration and relationship building with the local community and local First Nations.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Iris Energy.

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