Brightridge: No new sites until review of noise mitigation at current site

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A state legislator and a county commissioner, both representing Washington County’s rural New Salem community, said Monday they’re determined to get some sort of relief for citizens complaining about noise from a Bitcoin mining operation in their pastoral neighborhood.

The Red Dog Technologies’ “mine” has been disturbing their peace and is loudest at night, residents told News Channel 11 last week.

Monday, State Rep. Rebecca Alexander (R-Jonesoborough) and County Commissioner Kent Harris, who represents the neighborhood, said they’ll continue to press for noise mitigation at the site adjacent to a Brightridge substation off Bailey Bridge Road.

“It’s heartbreaking when all you can hear is this drone sound constantly,” said Alexander, who visited several homeowners Saturday night and hear the noise herself. “Apparently it’s worst around 4 in the morning.”

Brightridge says Red Dog Technologies is working on noise mitigation at its Bitcoin mine and has retained an acoustical engineer in its effort to alleviate citizen concerns about noise levels.

She said she would attend Monday’s Washington County Commission meeting, where New Salem residents are hoping to bring their complaints before commissioners — as are people from Lamar community, where another substation had been under consideration for a possible Bitcoin mine.

Brightridge released a statement Monday afternoon saying any second sites wouldn’t be considered prior to satisfactory mitigation of noise at the New Salem mine.

The New Salem property was rezoned to allow for the usage last year, but Harris — who voted to approve it — said he doesn’t think the property’s use was explained to commissioners or area residents in sufficient detail.

“We did change the zoning but we were never informed that this was going to be this type of facility,” Harris said. “I was under the impression it was going to be a solar farm.”

That would have been fine with him, Harris said.

“The solar panels are a little unsightly but they don’t cause a nuisance and we all realize that we’re living in a time that that’s where a lot of our power is being generated from.” 

Instead, he began hearing from neighbors several weeks ago that the noise from the operation was more than neighbors could tolerate.

Bitcoin mining uses massive amounts of energy from computer servers — particularly the graphics processing units — to solve complex mathematical problems in order to maintain the security of “blockchain” transactions related to the cryptocurrency.

The problem for neighbors comes from the fans used to cool those computing units. “Even on a home scale the fans required to keep these systems cool can be so loud two people can’t hear each other talk in the same room,” Milligan economics professor David Campbell told News Channel 11 last week.

Washington County Commissioner Kent Harris said he thought the site was going to house a solar farm or data center.

“I went down myself one night to listen, see what they were talking about and I definitely seen what the issue is,” Harris said. “I sure wouldn’t want it in front of my house. You know it’s definitely causing a nuisance for the people in that neighborhood.”

The complaints eventually reached Alexander, who grew up on a farm herself and said what she heard Saturday night made her feel for the New Salem residents.

“It’s really sad what has happened to this community,” Alexander said. “We come out in the county to enjoy the beauty of this county. People pay great money to own land out here.” 

Alexander said she understands the decibel levels may not exceed allowable limits. She said that’s not what it’s about. 

“It doesn’t matter. If you can’t enjoy the outdoors it doesn’t matter what decibel it is.” 

Potential second site currently off the table

Earlier this month, people in the Lamar community voiced their opposition to a potential second site next to a substation near the intersection of Tennessee Highway 81 and Greenwood Drive. Brightridge CEO Jeff Dykes told News Channel 11 May 14 the power distributor had been considering responding to a Red Dog “request for proposals” with a bid to locate a second site there.

The Bailey Bridge site, when fully operational, would be Brightridge’s biggest power customer, using enough electricity to power more than 10,000 homes. Dykes said that was an attractive prospect as conservation measures have steadily eaten away at the amount of juice power distributors sell.

Following the complaints, though, Brightridge issued this statement Monday:

“At this point, BrightRidge will not be considering an additional location until staff can evaluate the performance of the existing site after all mitigation measures are in place.

Again, work to mitigate sound performance continues currently, and our understanding is that Red Dog Technologies is working to retain an acoustical engineer to examine additional measures to alleviate citizen concerns.

Beyond that, questions of future locations, decision parameters or the like would be premature as a second site will not be considered until the first meets community expectations.”

Alexander: No more Bitcoin mines in the county

Brightridge and Red Dog may be working on mitigation, but Alexander said she’s already convinced one Bitcoin mine in Washington County is one too many.

State Rep. Rebecca Alexander (R-Jonesborough) with the Bitcoin mine behind her in rural New Salem.

“What do we do now?” she said. “How do we fix this problem? And then how do we keep it from ever happening again in Washington County?” 

Alexander said she wasn’t even sure Brightridge realized how disruptive the operation. Dykes himself told News Channel 11 another Red Dog site Brightridge leaders visited north of Knoxville wasn’t nearly as loud as the one now operating at Bailey Bridge.

“I know Brightridge is very community minded, and I know and I trust they’re going to do everything they can to protect the residents of Washington County and to make this right,” Alexander said.

She added that she is “very opposed” to any more Bitcoin mines in the county.

“Money’s not everything in life, and … it’s just very important to me that the residents out here are very happy with where they live, that they don’t have this kind of stuff going in their backyard that they have no control over,” she said.

Alexander has called her fellow state representative from Union County about the mine in Maynardville there. The site that was visited by Brightridge suffered a fire last fall that damaged equipment.

She also thinks the Tennessee Valley Authority should take a hard look at the popularity of Bitcoin mining operations throughout the valley.

“TVA power’s reliable and it’s inexpensive compared to other places and so they’re doing that for a good reason,” Alexander said of Bitcoin investors. “But if I was TVA I’d be very concerned what was going on.”  

For his part, Harris said he wants to investigate how much information was shared, and when, with residents, planning commissioners and county commissioners.

“I think that there was at the very least a bad communications issue, or at the most they were trying to just pull the wool over our eyes and get it done,” Harris said.

He realizes the mines are a huge revenue source for Brightridge.

“We want Brightridge to thrive, I’m a supporter of Brightridge, they’ve done a lot of good things,” Harris said. “But this was not handled right.”

He said he regrets voting to approve the rezoning considering the impact it’s had on his constituents.
“That’s my district. And people’s invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in homes that they’ve built there and now this has become a nuisance and we should have had a chance to look into it before it was passed.” 

Harris said Brightridge and Red Dog may have followed procedures for the rezoning, but he added that residents had the same impression he did.

“No neighbor came down and complained because they all that I’ve talked to felt the same way. They were under the impression it was gonna be a solar farm, part of a utility system.”

Citizens Speak Out

The noise issue came up during Monday night’s Washington County Commission meeting. People made it clear they don’t like the current bitcoin mining facility in the New Salem community and they don’t want another one in the Lamar community.

“It’s just going to eat up our neighborhood with the noise, we’ve heard it, we’ve listened to it,” said David Stalsmith, who lives near the potential future mining facility. “We’ll all lose our property values but worse than that, we’re stuck living where we’re at.”

“There has to be something to be done, some kind of [noise] suppression,” said Craig Ponder, pastor of the New Salem Baptist Church near the mining site.

“I would love for there to be more regulations or rules in place for businesses like this as far as noise requirements,” said Preston Holley, who lives near the facility. “They claim to be operating within the legal limit as far as decibels go but it was a lot quieter beforehand so the legal limit might not exactly be appropriate for an area like this.”