In a nutshell: Mechanicville hydroelectric plant, near Albany NY, is roughly the oldest renewable power plant still in service in America. Nowadays, it uses its mostly original equipment from 1897 to power a Bitcoin mining farm.
In the 1980s, the National Grid was considering shutting down the defunct plant when Albany Engineering Corp. agreed to operate it under a 40-year lease if the National Grid would purchase its electricity. It took Albany Engineering seven years to acquire all the right licenses, and the moment they had, the Grid reneged on their deal.
"National Grid called me up the next day and said, we're not going to honor this contract. And if you don't like it, take it to the judge," Jim Besha, the CEO of Albany Engineering, told the Albany Times Union. And so he did.
A decade later, they reached a settlement, and the National Grid had to surrender ownership of the plant and pay for it to be repaired after a fire and a flood had wreaked havoc while it was unattended. The plant reopened in August 2003.
But this year, Albany Engineering started using some of its electricity. When they sell to the Grid, they're paid about 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, but they earn triple that when they're mining Bitcoin. "We're just doing it on the side, experimenting with it," Besha said. "We're buying used servers."
Besha is cashing out the Bitcoin at the end of every week instead of holding on to it. He'd prefer to be selling the renewable electricity to real people, he says, but running a historic power plant isn't cheap.
Image credit: Paul Buckowski, Albany Times Union