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A large solar array is seen along U.S. 50 just within the Montrose County border with Delta County on Feb. 13, 2022. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Mystery solved. The hush-hush solar development in Olathe is sub rosa no more. The old Louisiana Pacific lumber mill along U.S. 50 is home to a cryptocurrency mine.

Aspen Creek Digital Corporation announced late last week that its “high-performance” bitcoin mining center is now operating on the site and is linked to the 10-megawatt solar fields that cover acres and acres around the old mill.

“ADC was founded with a simple premise in mind, which is to create a sustainable source of renewable energy to power our operations and put renewables back on the grid,” Aspen Creek Digital’s CEO Alexandra DaCosta said in a statement.

Also located on the site will be a 75,000-square-foot R&D and fulfillment facility to serve as a centralized testing, maintenance, storage and training hub for future Aspen Creek Digital “high performance computing centers.”

For months speculation swirled around the project as local economic and elected officials tried but failed to find out what was happening at the old plant. Efforts by The Sun to learn what was going on were also unsuccessful.

The trail did lead to El Segundo, Calif.-based Aspen Creek Digital, but the company did not reply to telephone and email requests for comment.

The decision in 2021 by China — once home to three-quarters of the world’s crypto mines — to ban the activity has sent crypto miners scrambling to find new homes, with rural areas in the U.S. with access to cheap power seen as prime locations.

A second cryptocurrency mine, operated by Denver-based Crusoe Energy, has opened in Jackson County using potential waste gas from oil wells to fuel generators that power the operation.

Aspen Creek Digital, however, said it is focusing on twinning its operations with renewable power to develop more than 3 gigawatts of wind, solar and battery generation across the U.S. by early 2025.

The company said it already has additional cryptocurrency mines under development in Texas, with its second facility slated to open this summer. That mine, a 30 MW data center capable of hosting 10,000 cryptomine computers, will be five times as large as the Olathe operation. It will be linked to a 87 MW solar farm.

A third project will be even bigger, a data center with 150 MW of capacity, and an adjacent 200 MW solar installation. 

“These projects represent significant additional generation resources for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas,” Aspen Creek Digital said. ERCOT, the Texas grid operator, has been challenged in meeting electricity demands, most notably in the winter of 2021 when Winter Storm Uri led to rolling blackouts across three-quarters of the state.

The two biggest ticket items for a cryptomine are specialized ASIC computers needed to keep track of bitcoin calculations — $10,000 each and hundreds are needed for a single mine — and the power to run them.

The cost of that energy and fluctuation in the market price of cryptocurrencies — which have plunged under recent economic and market conditions — pose the two biggest business risks for miners. Bitcoin, the biggest cryptocurrency, has dropped 70% from its November 2021 peak of $67,582 to about $20,779 on Monday.

“Recent market volatility has demonstrated the importance of our core strategy: controlling power as the principal input in bitcoin mining,” DaCosta said.

Mark Jaffe

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @bymarkjaffe