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Council tables cryptocurrency moratorium — again

PLATTSBURGH | For a second week, the Plattsburgh Common Council took no action on legislation designed to lift the city’s moratorium on the buildout of new cryptocurrency mining operations.

As the 18-month ban stretched into its 12th month, the council was split last week on whether or not to even discuss the proposal to lift the moratorium.

Councilors voted 3-3 on a procedural measure to remove the resolution from the table so the council could discuss it in open session, necessitating a tie-breaking vote from Mayor Colin Read, who voted in favor of opening up the item for discussion.

Ultimately, the resolution was tabled again, after councilors informally came to a consensus that more needed to be done before lifting the moratorium, including a possible industrial noise ordinance to curb potential quality-of-life impacts on local residents.

“I think we’ll be able to act very soon,” said Councilor Jeff Moore (Ward 6), who said that he intended to introduce a noise ordinance on Feb. 7, after this edition went to print. “I have enough information for us to make an informed decision on that.”

Moore has also suggested that the city craft an energy management plan to safeguard what city officials consider one of Plattsburgh’s best resources, its cheap electricity, from use not tied to the economic development of the area.

Councilors Patrick McFarlin (Ward 5) and Michael Kelly (Ward 2) each said that they favor lifting the moratorium quickly.

Councilor Rachelle Armstrong (Ward 1) and Councilor Elizabeth Gibbs (Ward 3) have both said that more information, or more measures to protect residents, were needed before making a decision. Councilor Peter Ensel (Ward 4) said last month that he’d prefer the moratorium stay in place.

HEALTH AND SAFETY REGULATIONS

McFarlin, who also serves as president of the city Municipal Lighting Department Board, introduced the resolution designed to lift the moratorium on Jan. 17.

The decision followed what he has characterized as months of inaction, where no serious discussions were taking place on additional legislation related to cryptocurrency or noise control.

The last time the Common Council weighed changes designed to address the digital currency industry’s impact on local ratepayers was Oct. 25, 2018, when councilors adopted a local law that effectively required mining operations to apply for special use permits, mandated that specific fire safety systems be installed, restricted the level of noise a facility can generate, and limited the percentage of heat that could be released outdoors when the average daily temperature is less than 40 degrees.

All of the above was intended to protect the “health, safety and welfare of residents in the proximity of these mining operations,” the city’s attorney, Dean Schneller, said at the time.

After adopting those new regulations, councilors appeared to favor installing a new industrial noise ordinance — that would also apply to cryptocurrency miners — before lifting the moratorium.

‘RIDER A’

The city’s 18-month moratorium was first imposed March 15, 2018. The measure was unanimously adopted the same night that the state Public Service Commission ruled that it would allow upstate power authorities like the Municipal Lighting Department to charge high density load users, like cryptocurrency mining facilities, more for the electricity that they use.

Local officials refer to that decision as “Rider A.”

“The Rider A impact only occurs when we have to buy supplemental power,” Municipal Lighting Department Director William Treacy told councilors last week.

When the city as a whole blows through its quota of cheap power, necessitating the purchase of additional power on the open market where it’s more expensive, high density load users will see an additional “Rider A” charge reflected on their bill two months later, according to Treacy.

The city’s usage last extended beyond its quota in December, he said. That means that industrial users will see the charge show up in March.

“No customer needs to worry that they’re being taken advantage of,” Tracy said. “It’s all checked by the state.”


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