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BT Daily News: Bitcoin’s price gains this year bring needed relief to cash-strapped crypto mining industry


1. Bitcoin’s price gains this year bring needed relief to cash-strapped crypto mining industry

The recovery of Bitcoin prices since the start of the year has brought some breathing space to the companies that mine the world’s largest cryptocurrency after 2022 drove many to warn of cash shortages or even in the case of Core Scientific, one of the biggest publicly traded miners, to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Miners rode the boom in 2021 as Bitcoin rose to all-time highs of more than US$68,000 in November of that year, with Core Scientific listing shares on the Nasdaq exchange just two months later.

But the euphoria evaporated in 2022 as Bitcoin prices took a downturn, the US$40 billion Terra-Luna stablecoin collapsed in May and Bahamas-based crypto exchange FTX failed in November amid charges of fraud. Bitcoin plunged more than 75% from that all-time high to around US$16,000 at the end of 2022, squeezing profit margins at mining companies.

Bitcoin has since kicked off this year with price gains to top US$25,000 in February for the first time since June 2022.

With Bitcoin closer to US$24,000 it’s obviously a lot better and a greater share of the industry is now profitable,” said Daniel Roberts, co-founder and chief executive of Nasdaq-listed Iris Energy, in an interview with Forkast. Roberts said at US$25,000 per Bitcoin, Iris can make US$100 million a year in gross profit.

The change in fortunes is reflected in the share price of Iris, which traded at US$2.82 as of last Friday from an all-time low of US$1.02 in late December.

The Bitcoin network is secured by network participants trying to crack complex cryptographic equations required to validate transactions on the network. This process requires enormous computing power and energy use and these validators or “miners” are typically rewarded in Bitcoin.

Iris was just one of many Bitcoin mining operators to report a cash shortage at the end of last year, as did London-listed miner Argo Blockchain and Greenidge Generation Holdings. But Iris appears to have resolved the shortage, according to the company’s recent earnings report.

Hard times
Bitcoin’s mining difficulty, a variable that measures how much computing power is required to verify blocks on the blockchain, rose to an all-time high on Feb. 25. This has offset profitability at the miners, even as Bitcoin gained.

Another Bitcoin mining operator said it was not just the crash in Bitcoin prices that hit the industry last year but a series of factors, including mining difficulty and energy prices.

The Bitcoin price crash was compounded by mining difficulty going “through the roof” and the volatility in energy prices as global inflation surged, Tim Broadfoot, chief corporate officer of Australian cryptocurrency mining firm Mawson Infrastructure Group, said in an interview.

So, it has been hard,” he said. Broadfoot added that the Bitcoin price surge in late 2021 led to a rush in orders for the specialized computers customized for crypto mining. Those machines are now coming online but are required to run to be profitable.

Energy prices also took a toll on the Bitcoin mining industry, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused household energy prices around the world to almost double, according to a recent report from the World Economic Forum.

Sticky Bitcoin
Both Mawson and Iris have been somewhat insulated from the surge in energy costs as both rely primarily on renewable sources of energy that have been less affected by volatility in prices of electricity generated from fossil fuels such as oil and gas.

Iris uses surplus renewable energy to power its mining operations, which the company believes could provide a market incentive to build additional renewable energy facilities based on wind, solar and others.

[Iris’s] strategy has always been to target excess renewables, which almost by definition is the lowest cost energy you can get,” said Roberts. “So, we’ve remained very competitive and increasingly competitive in the global cost curve.”

Mawson is powered by a nuclear energy power station in Pennsylvania, U.S., and also operates as an energy retailer. Broadfoot said throughout December, Mawson earned US$4 million from the energy market, but mined very few Bitcoins.

So that’s really helped the company over the past few months and will continue to be a part of our strategic process,” he said.

Roberts said the slump in crypto prices and failures of various trading platforms ultimately help Bitcoin by distinguishing it as a monetary alternative.

People are now starting to learn that Bitcoin is different from crypto and Bitcoin is different from these centralized exchanges,” he said.

I think that continued level of interest from individuals, high net-worth family offices and institutions is a little bit stickier and is staying through the cycle rather than potentially going to ground for a couple of years during previous bear markets.

2. Montana Senate Passes Bill Protecting Crypto Miners

The Montana State Senate passed a bill on Thursday protecting crypto miners from a range of possible actions against the industry.

The proposed law passed 37-13 in the Senate and next will go the state's House for its approval. The bill protects at-home mining, prevents discriminatory utility rates for miners and stipulates that crypto used as payment will not be subject to additional taxes.

The legislation also takes power from local governments, preventing them from moving against at-home mining or retroactively using zoning laws to shut down active operations.

The new law might possibly upend a 2020 Missoula County zoning ordinance that required all bitcoin miners to buy or build renewable energy assets equivalent to their energy consumption.

"Missoula County has no position on this bill, and we're not concerned it will affect our regulations," said a representative for the county.

Bitcoin miners have been targeted by environmentalists and U.S. lawmakers for their potential impacts on carbon neutrality goals as well as electrical grids. In the past few months, bitcoin miners have been fighting back; as many as five bills are going through state legislatures to protect the industry.

Bitcoin advocacy group Satoshi Action Fund helped draft the language in the bill. "There is still more work to be done in Montana, but as a new organization we feel confident about the progress we have made," said Dennis Porter, CEO and co-founder of Satoshi Action Fund.

3. Bitcoin Mining Consulting Firm Sabre56 Raises $35M to Build 150MW of Hosting Sites

Sabre56, a company that consults miners on the development and operations of facilities, has raised $35 million to build its own hosting sites, aiming to have 150 megawatts (MW) of energy capacity ready by the end of the year. Hosting is a service that data centers provide to crypto miners that want to run their mining rigs without having to build the infrastructure themselves.

The first four sites will total 115 MW and be located in Wyoming and Texas, where construction has already begun, according to a press release. The capacity will be built in 7MW-15 MW of monthly increments, with the first batch coming online in mid-March, company CEO Phil Harvey said. The $35 million investment is coming primarily from private individuals, he added.

Hosting space for mining rigs has been in short supply over the past few months as few new sites were coming online and capital for development ran dry. The bankruptcies of major hosting firms like Compute North and Core Scientific (CORZ) heightened the supply issue.

Sabre56 will offer competitive pricing between $0.068-$0.072 per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity consumed, depending on the duration of the contract and the type of machines, Harvey said. For comparison, Core Scientific increased its hosting price to just under 10 cents in October as soaring natural gas prices increased its electricity costs.

Harvey declined to specify the price of the fixed-rate electricity contracts that Sabre56 has signed.

Sabre56 already has a "waiting list" of clients, said the press release. Harvey specified that it is comprised mostly of companies and individuals already close to the company, and the contracts are in the 10 MW-50 MW range. In addition to its projections to have 150 MW online by the end of 2023, the company plans to keep adding 150 MW of capacity annually for the next four years. The profits made from the initial investments will be enough to continue this further development, Harvey said.

"I'm not interested in taking over, some s***show that people are trying to sell because they're going bankrupt and can't run their operations," said Harvey, responding to a question from CoinDesk about why his company has chosen not to purchase an existing development from a distressed miner.
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