IN MY CALLOW YOUTH, I would sometimes travel northeast from Austin, Texas, on Highway 79. It was a peaceful and somewhat lonely drive as I passed through various sleepy little towns, with the railroad track paralleling the highway to my right. The sound of the occasional train whistle was the perfect musical accompaniment.
One of the first towns I’d get to was Rockdale, which was best known for having a big Alcoa aluminum factory. I haven’t passed that way in decades, so I guess my memory of it was frozen in time and I somehow assumed it was much the same as before.
Then I came upon an article in The Washington Post about bitcoin mining in Rockdale. What an eye opener. My home state of Texas is known for many things. But “one of the go-to locations for expanding crypto entrepreneurs the world over”? That was news to me.
I confess I know almost nothing about bitcoin—and have an instinctive suspicion of it. Still, what a surprise to read that the old Alcoa plant is now home to more than 100,000 computer servers, stacked 20-feet high, dedicated to creating bitcoin.
Perhaps most surprising of all is that one of the attractions of Texas for bitcoin-mining companies is our deregulated electric grid, where customers can choose their own provider. The bitcoin companies have even worked out a deal where they get paid to shut down operations during periods of peak electricity demand. When I think about the historic Texas freeze back in February, and all the misery it caused, somehow it’s no consolation that during that time the bitcoin miners took a break from mining—and got paid to do so.