Hundreds of computers mining virtual cash via blockchain are stacked on shelves. Photo: AFP / Maxim Zmeyev

First it was China, next Venezuela and then Iceland. Now the cheap land and even cheaper electricity to be found next to the Columbia River has turned a desolate and mountainous corner of Washington State into the latest bitcoin mining hotspot.

An absorbing Politico Magazine article describes how the Mid-Columbia Basin crypto mining industry has, in a few years, gone from a computer-in-the-basement operation to one of purpose-built warehouses holding thousands of mining servers that often need in excess of 50 megawatts of energy. To put that in some context, that’s enough electricity to power more than 20,000 American homes. Or even a cavernous Amazon data centre.

The area’s five hydroelectric dams provide the cheapest power in the US, so when the price of Bitcoin moved during 2017, from less than $1,000 to $19,000, it brought a string of private jets to the Basin carrying investors from Tokyo, Shanghai, Dubai and New York, who often brought with them suitcases full of cash. This is one of the stories of our time.

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