Cryptocurrency mining stirring concerns across rural Georgia as giant server farms buzz

Opposition is growing across Georgia to cryptocurrency mining, the process of creating Bitcoins and other forms of virtual currencies at giant server farm sites.

Residents of Gilmer County in the North Georgia mountains recently beat back a proposed rezoning to allow a cryptocurrency server farm in that rural community. Just north of Gilmer, the Fannin County Commission has enacted a ban on crypto mining.

And several hundred miles to the south, the Southern Georgia Regional Commission, which represents 18 primarily rural counties, has published a model ordinance counties can use to put restrictions on the development of cryptocurrency farms.

Opponents complain that server farms generating cryptocurrency are extremely noisy, impose a huge drain on electricity and water resources, and don’t generate enough jobs to justify those negative consequences. For example, Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, or digital currency. It was conceived as a way to let people make payments without going through third parties such as banks. It is not controlled by any government.

“It’s the biggest con on the public ever,” said Cyndie Roberson, cofounder of Gilmer County Citizens Against Crypto Mining, which brought out hundreds of residents to a meeting of the county’s planning commission to oppose the project.

“So many attended, people were wrapped around the courthouse,” Roberson said.

The General Assembly took up the issue during this year’s session in the form of a bill aimed at growing the industry by offering a sales tax exemption on equipment purchased to equip cryptocurrency server farms and prohibiting local governments from passing noise ordinances specifically targeting crypto mining.

The industry already has gained a solid foothold in Georgia. Roberson’s group has documented 30 cryptocurrency mining operations in 20 communities across the state, from Rome and Dalton in Northwest Georgia to Swainsboro, Sandersville, and Brooklet in the southeast.

In fact, Georgia mines the second-most cryptocurrency in the country behind Texas.

“Bitcoin mining is more than just an economic activity,” Bo Ginn, who manages the Sandersville crypto mining operation for Nevada-based CleanSpark Inc., told state lawmakers during a hearing on the bill in February.

“It’s an important technological advancement that brings substantial investment, innovation and job creation to Georgia, especially to our rural communities,” he said.

But Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville, said she and her constituents have had a “terrible experience” since a crypto mining server farm began operating in Adel.

“The noise is absolutely atrocious,” she said. “They bring no money in, no jobs in, except for people who are there guarding the place.”

Houston also complained about the amount of electricity crypto mining uses. Large data centers are having an impact on Georgia’s power grid, as state lawmakers demonstrated this year when they passed legislation – subsequently vetoed by Gov. Brian Kemp – that would have temporarily suspended a tax break aimed at attracting more data centers to Georgia.

“We’ve built two (nuclear) reactors over at Plant Vogtle, and we’re using so much power, we’re going to have to build another one,” Houston said. “When we have to build another reactor, it’s going to be the taxpayers of this state who have to pay for it.”

Rep. Scott Hilton, R-Peachtree Corners, who introduced this year’s cryptocurrency bill, said it is not at the top of his priority list for the 2025 General Assembly session. However, he said he believes the legislature eventually should address the cryptocurrency issue.

The model ordinance might be a place to start. It allows the development of crypto mining operations but sets standards for noise levels and appearance server farms would have to meet before they could set up shop.

“I think those who are seeking to move these here would be amenable to reasonable accommodations,” Hilton said.

Bob Sherrier, a staff attorney with the Atlanta-based Southern Environmental Law Center, said he would rather let local governments regulate crypto mining operations than impose state control.

“Some industrial areas (suitable for a server farm) are next to residential,” he said. “It should be within the control of local government to say, ‘That area’s OK, and that area’s not.’ “

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