1. News
June 21, 2021

When it rains, it pours: Sichuan shuts down bitcoin mines despite abundant hydropower

By Elles Houweling

The Sichuan government has issued an order to halt all cryptocurrency mining operations in the Chinese province, reversing its previous lenient stance. The move brings Sichaun in line with a nationwide crackdown on the mining and exchange of bitcoin and other digital currencies in China.

The Sichuan provincial branch of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Sichuan Energy Bureau issued a joint notice on Friday to “clean up and terminate” all mining of “virtual currencies” in the province. The Sichuan branch of the State Grid Corp of China, the world’s largest electricity utility, demanded the closure of 26 suspected cryptocurrency mining projects by Sunday.

The Sichuan branch of the NDRC, in cooperation with the macroeconomic management agency under the State Council, will supervise the shutdown while tracking daily electricity usage reports. Electricity providers will be required to investigate their clients and immediately cut off power supply if they suspect cryptocurrency mining activities, the order said.

The mining of digital coins is big business in China and accounts for more than half of global bitcoin production, according to Reuters. The central Chinese province of Sichuan is the country’s second-largest bitcoin mining region and one of the world’s primary sources for bitcoin. Some miners move there specifically during the summer to take advantage of its rich hydropower resources during the rainy season. The rainy season in Sichuan lasts from April to October in the moist east, but ends in September in the drier west.

Earlier this month, miners in Sichuan were told that they had until September to terminate their practices, allowing them to take advantage of the region’s abundant hydropower during the rainy season. The local government now appears to have made a 180 degrees turn from its previous stance, falling in line with the China-wide push against digital currencies.

Last month, the Chinese government put out an official statement citing the need to “crackdown on bitcoin mining and trading behaviour,” which forced many miners to leave the country. Prior to that, three major Chinese financial institutions had issued a joint statement indicating that the country would come after cryptocurrency exchanges. Shortly after the release of that statement, bitcoin’s value fell 16%.

Following the closure of cryptocurrency mining farms in inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Yunnan, Sichuan is now the fourth significant mining province in China that has closed its doors on the activity.

A large portion (if not the majority) of bitcoin mining energy use occurs in China, and most notably in “green” powered areas like Sichuan and Xinjiang, where renewable sources like hydroelectric, solar and geothermal are common.

This suggests that the mining of cryptocurrency might not be as environmentally detrimental as is often suggested. Moreover, Verdict recently reminded its readers that bitcoin mining is not a significant activity in energy terms: it accounts for around one thousandth of global use.