Encouraging the development of a byte-sized addition to its local economy, Riverdale Municipal Council has approved a conditional-use application on an industrial section of land for the construction of a Bitcoin data mining centre.

The applicant is from Alberta and purchased a piece of land in Rivers with the intention to pursue the cryptocurrency mining centre, said mayor Todd Gill. The company, 2386453 Alberta Ltd., had every right to apply for the conditional use of the property, like any other developer looking to open a new business.

“We here as a council and as a municipality, we provided him with due process,” Gill said.

A public meeting was held for the conditional-use request from the company on Jan. 4 and it received approval from council on Jan. 11 at a special meeting.

The company, 2386453 Alberta Ltd., requested conditional-use approval on 368 Taylor Rd., Lot 1 Plan 6437, an industrial-zoned section of the municipality. The site will be used to develop a containerized Bitcoin data mining centre under the category of light manufacturing not otherwise identified producing negligible noise, dust, odour, emissions or other nuisances factored into the “M” industrial zone, said the application.

The conditional-use application was approved on the condition a permanent structure of a minimum of 400 square feet is built before the installation of any accessory shipping container on the property. The company is also required to enter into an agreement with the municipality to define mutually agreed upon terms and conditions of operation and that the agreement is registered on the property title.

Council looked at the approved development like any other business application, Gill said, focusing on the employment opportunities generated.

“Basically, it’s a piece of property that would be developed and benefits the community through a little bit of construction and set up and the ongoing addition to the tax base,” Gill said.

Council’s focus was not on the process of crypto mining; instead, they looked to the land-use rules for the industrial-zoned property.

The land purchased by the company had already been designated for industrial use, he said, but the development bylaws in Riverdale do not currently speak to crypto mining and how the process would fit into the planning scheme of the municipality.

Cryptocurrency mines were not detailed in the municipality’s development bylaws and this led to the need for conditional use of the land, even though it was an industrial area.

“Our focus was on the land use, not so much on the actual process of crypto mining,” Gill said.

As part of providing due process, council heard from the developer, community members and neighbours.

The concerns from the community largely centred on hydro use and noise.

“The biggest concern is always the unknown, and people were concerned about noise and things like that. But, you must remember this piece of property is on already zoned industrial land and is adjacent to the CN mainline,” Gill said. “There are people that had valid concerns and we tried to mitigate those concerns as best we could, but at the end of the day, Rivers, Manitoba, is open for business, and we’re happy that the proprietor selected Rivers as a place to do business.”

He added in the application 2386453 Alberta Ltd. proposed to use fluid cooling technology, which is considerably different than the traditional fan technology for cooling using air movement, to help keep equipment running at the operation.

“They use fluid technology, where they use fluid to cool the equipment which, of course, reduces noise for the operations. In addition, a lot of the reading that people do, the noise levels of the operation are often caused by generators that are used for supplemental power in some cases,” Gill said. “That will not be the case here.”

Gill could not confirm why the municipality was selected for the mining site.

“I would suggest that the interest here is likely due to our hydro resources. Obviously, the cost of our hydro is maybe possibly favourable compared to other provinces. Maybe the consistency of the hydro,” Gill said. “I’m not sure what has led the individual here … our focus was more on the application for the land use than anything else.”

He noted while the council did learn a little bit about crypto mining during the application process, they are not aware of the details of the actual Riverdale mine itself.

“We don’t look at the nitty-gritty of the operations, as you would say, we looked at how it would fit into the location and what the effect would be to surrounding properties,” he said.

Cryptocurrency mining is an emerging industry, he added, and there were resources available to assist in understanding what the businesses would look like in the municipality.

On Jan. 3, The Canadian Press reported The Bank of Canada has upped the pace of its work on a digital currency, mirroring efforts by counterparts in other countries as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates the transition to a digital economy.

The bank only plans to issue a digital currency if the use of physical bills for transactions plummets and one or more private cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, become widely used in Canada.

Research by the central bank suggests the probability of people using Bitcoin is tied to its prevalence — the more people who adopt it, the more likely others will follow suit — as well as how optimistic users feel about Bitcoin’s future.

Bitcoin adoption in Canada remains low at around five per cent. The Canadian Press reported young Canadians may be more likely to use Bitcoin because it is easier for them to purchase the digital currency than to open a formal bank account.

As the sector grows, there is a need to be open to digital industry, Gill said.

“As much as we don’t know a lot about that yet, I’m sure it will find us,” he said. “In a changing world with many things going digital, we have to keep an open mind when it comes to any economic activities and economical opportunities.”

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