Original Published 11:28 May 20, 2022

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kneehill County council unanimously approved the re-zoning of a one acre piece of agriculture land to light industrial to accommodate a cryptocurrency mining operation. The decision was made after a public hearing May 10.

Councillors were considering an application by Fire Technology Corp. to rezone a 1.04-acre portion of SE 28-32- 26 W4 from agriculture zoning to light industrial zoning to allow for a cryptocurrency mining facility.

County Manager of Planning and Development Barb Hazelton presented the results of public advertising of Fire Tech’s application. 

“The subject parcel is owned by GVF Contracting Ltd. (Gordon Ferguson). It is accessed by Range Road 26-3 approximately 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 27 and just over two km. southwest of the Hamlet of Torrington,” stated Hazelton in her report.

“The area of the parcel to be considered is currently being leased by Ember Resources Ltd. Fire Technology is looking to lease a 1.04-acre portion of this existing leased area for a micro-power generation and cryptocurrency mining facility.

“Fire Technology Corp. is a registered corporation in Alberta. The parent company is a private fund management institution registered in China. The have built a number of cryptocurrency mining facilities in China as well as one in Kazakhstan.

“Cryptocurrency mining requires the use of sophisticated computers with significant electricity needs.”

Hazelton noted councillors already approved first reading of the re-zoning bylaw, and this application was publicly advertised and comments requested from referral agencies. 

Hazelton pointed out this application was only to re-zone the property; the cryptocurrency facility will go through a separate development permit process.

Looking at correspondence Hazelton noted no referral agencies submitted comments, and the county received no comment in favour of the facility. 

The county received one letter from Pam Beauchamp, who was opposed to the application for the following reasons: traffic, noise, natural gas leaks, fire and toxic engine exhaust, among others.

Fire Tech’s representative, Mark Lackie of Trimble Engineering of Calgary, spoke next and noted the applicant spent a lot of time searching for a good location for the development, and they feel the Kneehill County site is the “optimal location. 

He noted the cryptocurrency facility will need about one acre out of the seven acre site, and is proposed to be developed in two phases: Phase I will generate just under one megawatt of power and would be underway by July 2022 while Phase II will reach for just under 10 megawatts of power and be built in Nov. or Dec., 2022.

Lackie also suggested some employment from the project as well: possibly five to eight positions.

Coun. Carrie Fobes asked, during construction, what effects could county roads expect? The applicant’s engineer stated several 40 foot sea can-type containers will come in with the heaviest, the full-size generators, weighing in at about 75,000 pounds.

Fobes asked if the landowner knows what the application proposes, to which Lackie answered the applicant has been in contact with Ferguson who has worked as an operator for Ember Resources and supports the application.

A substantial amount of time was spent talking about noise the project could generate if it’s approved. The applicant had acoustical engineer Mackenzie Kunz, of Patching Associates in Calgary, answer the questions. He told councillors he visited the site and made several recordings and observations including the fact Ember has four compressors on the site in question.

Both Reeve Jerry Wittstock and Coun. Ken King asked about the noise level if the cryptocurrency facility is added to the compressors. 

Kunz stated, based on the observation he made at the site, the cryptocurrency project combined with the compressors would still meet AUC rules and added Fire Tech’s facility would add only one decibel to the noise level. 

Kunz also stated when he was near the residences the compressors at the Ember site were too faint to be heard.

Fobes noted the site in question is in her division and if there’re noise complaints Kneehill County will probably receive them; she asked how that will be handled. Lackie responded complaints will be followed up and mitigation will be done if required.

A few questions about the lifespan of the cryptocurrency facility were asked, and Lackie stated if, for example, Ember shut down its operation, the cryptocurrency facility would also shut down.

A member of the public, Steven Raymer, asked if the cryptocurrency facility, consuming natural gas, would affect utility rates for regional residents.

The applicant’s experts stated the facility would consume about three million cubic feet of gas per day which is minuscule compared to the amount produced per day in Alberta, which meant it would have no effect on utility rates.

After the public hearing closed councillors unanimously passed both second and third readings of the re-zoning bylaw.

This item reprinted with permission from East Central Alberta Review, Coronation, Alberta