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Idaho Power asks for new customer class for industrial cryptocurrency miners

The company is arguing the high energy demands and potentially-temporary nature of the mining operations could leave other electricity users holding the bag.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Power is asking the commission that regulates utilities to move commercial and industrial cryptocurrency mining operations into a new customer class, arguing the high energy demands and potentially-temporary nature of the operations could leave other electricity users holding the bag.

If approved by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, the new classification will apply only to large-scale crypto miners, not hobbyists using their own computers at home to retrieve Bitcoin, according to Idaho Power spokesman Jordan Rodriguez.

Idaho Power already separates its customers into different groupings, with separate classes for residential power users, small businesses and larger commercial customers, farmers and irrigators, and "special contracts," defined as any operation more than 20 megawatts in size. The new class, if approved by the PUC, would apply to industrial cryptocurrency mining operations under 20 megawatts; anything bigger would remain in the special contracts division.

Rodriguez said the request to create a is aimed at setting "appropriate pricing based on their needs" for all power users, as well as shielding Idaho Power and its other customers from fallout if the still-speculative crypto-mining industry takes a sudden plunge.

The risk, he said, is for large-scale cryptocurrency operations to place a high demand on the power grid - forcing Idaho Power to build a new gas plants or solar farms to keep up with the increased demand - only to disappear if the profitability of cryptocurrency mining tanks. In that case, the power company would be stuck paying for infrastructure it no longer needs, and those extra costs could be passed on in the form of rate hikes to other customers. 

"The risk for that load to potentially go away quickly if the finances change on what crypto is worth, that makes it tricky," Rodriguez said. "It's not to be picking on a certain business, but it is the nature of that business that they are mobile and sometimes temporary."

As part of their request, Idaho Power is also asking to make that class for cryptocurrency mining, referred to as the "Speculative High-Density Load" grouping, interruptible between the dates of June 15 and Sept. 15, when the demand on the power grid is the highest. 

The explosion of growth in southwest Idaho coupled with record-setting temperatures already taxed the electric grid this summer, Rodriguez said, leading to Idaho Power calling on all customers to do their part to conserve power.

"We are just seeing loads that are at the top end of what we are able to serve," Rodriguez said of Idaho's hottest months.

Idaho Power is asking for the ability to cut electricity first to the cryptocurrency mining class - for minutes, hours, or longer - in the summer months if the demand for power exceeds what the company can provide. In that situation, Rodriguez said, Idaho Power can avoid the potential for blackouts affecting homes and businesses.

Idaho Power is not asking for rate changes for any other customer classes. The utility commission is expected to make a decision on the request in the coming weeks or months. 

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