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Midwest Utility Mines Bitcoin To Balance Electricity Supply

Missouri’s largest utility, with 1.2 million customers, is mining bitcoin to better match demand and manage variability on the grid.

Ameren Missouri, the largest utility in the state that serves 1.2 million customers, began experimenting with bitcoin mining in April to manage variability on the grid, reported E&E News. The company plugs the bitcoin mining rigs when electricity is cheap and demand is low as an alternative to ramping up its power plants up and down to match demand.

“We have pretty dramatic changes in load minute by minute, second by second at times,” said Warren Wood, the utility’s vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs, per the report. “We need something that’s really got quick, ramping up and down capability to be a really effective tool for grid balancing.”

The pilot, which is being funded entirely by utility shareholders at no cost to Missouri ratepayers, sparked the interest of Missouri’s most prominent energy regulator, Ryan Silvey, the Public Service Commission chair. Silvey, a former Republican state senator, told E&E he is personally drawn to bitcoin and was interested in assembling a technical workshop on bitcoin mining even before hearing about the Ameren initiative. He believes Bitcoin has potential as a grid asset.

“When a company brings us a program that has very little or no risk to the consumer that will benefit them, I think it’s exciting,” Silvey said. The former senator also recommended that Amaren consider shouldering any risk of the project, although state legislation allows utility companies to “run pilot programs and look at alternate sources of revenue that could be used to lower rates,” according to the report.

Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, researched the impact of bitcoin mining on the southern state. He observed that bitcoin miners “can add a lot of value, particularly how fast they can move up and down…faster than some traditional generators can move, which is value.” Wood reiterated how quick miners could be online at Ameren.

“We’re talking a minute or less to be on or off,” Wood said. “You really have a good mechanism for trying to seek that better balance of the grid between your generation resources and load.”

In July, the Mechanicville plant, an old hydro-power station in upstate New York and one of the oldest plants in the U.S., shared how they could also increase efficiency and profitability with bitcoin mining.

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