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Cryptocurrency miner requests total one-quarter of Hydro-Quebec capacity

February 28, 2018  

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The bitcoin boom may be too much of a good thing for Hydro-Quebec.

Canada’s biggest electric utility has been inundated with requests to supply electricity to cryptocurrency miners eager to set up shop in Quebec — more than it can deliver.

According to Bloomberg News, Chief Executive Officer Eric Martel has “received hundreds of applications” from such ventures in the past few weeks, which would need more than 9,000 megawatts of energy– about one-quarter of the utility’s total generating capacity of 37,000 megawatts. Hydro-Quebec said last month it was in talks with more than 30 cryptocurrency companies.

“There’s a real craze for Quebec,” Martel said in an interview with Bloomberg News at company headquarters in Montreal. “I’ve got new LinkedIn friends from Russia, China and many other places. The phone has been ringing off the hook.”

The company has been courting cryptocurrency miners in recent months in a bid to soak up surplus energy from dams in northern Quebec. Power rates in the province are the lowest in North America, both for consumers and industrial customers.

Hydro-Quebec will need several months to pore over all the requests, and probably won’t be able to accommodate them all. Nor does the company have plans to build new hydropower plants for the nascent industry. One option Martel is considering is charging bitcoin miners more than the rate of about 5 Canadian cents (3.91 U.S. cents) per kilowatt-hour that industrial users such as data centers would normally pay.

Martel’s first priority will be to ensure that signing up bitcoin miners won’t endanger the supply of power to the millions of Quebec residents — and thousands of industrial users — who depend on the state-owned utility, he said.

“If all we do is connect the bitcoin miners who have applied, we could create an issue for ourselves,” he said. “There are limits to what we can do. I have a huge network with lots of capacity, but I cannot host the entire planet.”