Citizens Fight Cryptocurrency Goliath

It has already been three years since Bitfarms came to shake up the tranquility of Sherbrooke residents. Energy-hungry, the cryptocurrency company brings in significant income for the municipality, but cohabitation with residents of the area is difficult because of noise pollution from the plant. Story of a citizen struggle to find silence, against a booming industry.

Behind the walls of the Pointe plant, on the banks of the Magog River in Sherbrooke, thousands of computers are busy solving mathematical calculations to mine bitcoins. However, since the installation of Bitfarms in Sherbrooke in 2018, citizens have complained about the noise emanating from the plant. And despite investments of more than $ 1.2 million made by the company in infrastructure to reduce noise, surrounding residents plead that nothing is helping.

“Our house was an oasis in the city, and this power station ruined everything,” says Suzanne Blais, a citizen who lives on rue Raimbault, on the other side of the shore. “We don’t even want to open the windows, we close them because we’re tired of hearing it. It’s a buzz, a constant and aggressive vibration, ”adds the one who no longer takes her coffee on her outdoor terrace as she liked to do in the summer before the arrival of Bitfarms.

“It’s a sound that is inflicted on us 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. We even have a neighbor who had to barricade and insulate her bedroom window which overlooked the river in order to be able to sleep,” says meanwhile Marcel Cyr, another citizen who also lives rue Raimbault, a few houses from that of Blais.

But according to certain factors, “such as the direction of the wind, the atmospheric ceiling, or the humidity”, the propagation of the noise varies, explains Charles Miquelon, a resident of rue Denault. Some days are a little more bearable, others intolerable, he emphasizes.

“Our mental health and the depreciation of our properties are also important. Not just Bitfarms profits, ”says Cyr.

The relocation

Faced with this impasse, the City of Sherbrooke finally announced on September 8 that it had reached an agreement in principle with the company Bitfarms for the relocation of its facilities. By February 28, 2023, the Pointe center will have to close its doors for good. And the company’s activities will be relocated elsewhere in Sherbrooke, in a regional industrial park near the highway.

“I’m partly relieved, concedes Suzanne Blais, but I still have doubts. I will truly believe it the day I hear them no more. “

And if the citizens will finally win their case with the relocation of the company, they regret having to endure this situation for nearly a year and a half.

By the time the company moves, the power used at the center of the Pointe will drop from 30 to 18 megawatts, no later than May 31, 2022, depending on the agreement. “But how did they define the 18 megawatts? »Asks Charles Miquelon. “Even at this level, we think we will still hear noise. So we ask the question to find out how they arrived at this suggestion, but we don’t have an answer. “

The citizens met by The duty believe they have been abandoned by the mayor in this case. “How can a listening mayor still allow this hell until 2023 for his citizens? »Launches Mr. Miquelon.

For his part, city councilor Marc Denault, who supports the residents of his district in this case, believes that “the citizens are fighting against Goliath”.

“We are not against the presence of the company in Sherbrooke. All we want is for them to solve the nuisance problem. Bitfarms is not the only company with cryptocurrency mining facilities in Sherbrooke and yet only Bitfarms bothers, ”adds Mr. Denault.

The ProHost Network, installed in a former factory on Boulevard Industriel near Highway 410, does not make the headlines like Bitfarms, recently noted The gallery. “We had no complaints,” said Robert Gagnon, the company’s general manager.

Contested fines

Complaints, the Bitfarms company has accumulated. Currently, more than 20 statements of offense have been submitted to the company, and about 40 others are pending, according to the City of Sherbrooke.

“We challenge them because, depending on the noise we cause, we do not think it is justified”, intervenes Benoit Gobeil, director of operations of Bitfarms, who recalls that the company has put in place facilities to mitigate noise and try to meet the demands of citizens.

Aside from the City’s fines, the company also received notices of non-compliance and an administrative monetary penalty of $ 10,000 in December 2020 from the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change. , after several inspections. “That is also disputed,” explains Mr. Gobeil.

The company, which has still not obtained its certificate of authorization from the ministry, was ordered to comply with the standards by March 31, 2021. The results of a sound study by the ministry dating from May 20 did not demonstrate “No exceedance of established sound criteria”, but those of another study carried out in August are still being analyzed.

In all, since September 2019, the Ministry of the Environment has recorded 82 complaints against the Bitfarms plant in Sherbrooke. As for the company’s other sites, only one noise complaint was identified by the ministry for that of Magog, while none was filed for those of Saint-Hyacinthe, Farnham or Cowansville.

The location on rue de la Pointe, close to residences and along the river, “was perhaps not the best place”, recognizes Steve Lussier, the mayor of Sherbrooke, who specifies that there have been tests. mistakes on the part of the company as this is a fairly new industry.

But why not intervene to relocate earlier? “We waited to see, because the company has made efforts to stop the noise by making fairly significant investments. But it was not adequate and it was not necessarily of much use, because we see that the problem is still there, ”he admits.

As for the offenses transmitted to the company, “they will have no choice: we will have to discharge them at the level of the City because we still have concrete evidence on our side, underlines the mayor. It will be up to them to show that we did not have to hand over these tickets, which would surprise me a lot ”.

Gold mine for the municipal

In Sherbrooke, which has its own electricity distribution network, the cryptocurrency industry represents an important source of income, given the large hydro-electricity bills paid by companies working in the field. The City withdraws just over $ 6 million per year from this sector, which brings together three players within the municipality, Bitfarms being the most important of them.

In Magog, which also has its own network and where Bitfarms also has facilities, the municipality receives $ 1 million from the cryptocurrency industry.

While the mayor of Sherbrooke recognizes that these are significant economic gains, he insists on the fact that citizens’ peace of mind is essential and that there is no question of opposing economic interests to those of residents.

The fact remains that the City benefits greatly from the presence of the company on its territory, even if it has not honored its promise to create 250 jobs (it has about fifteen employees, without counting the subcontractors).

“Currently, when we are“ fully loaded ”, we alone bring between 2.5 and 2.8 million to the City of Sherbrooke for a full year, underlines Benoît Gobeil, of Bitfarms. When we reach our maximum capacity with our new facilities, this should increase to over 7.5 million per year. “

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