ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Missouri's largest utility has set up a data center at the site of one of its coal-fired power plants that it is using to mine the Internet for bitcoins.
Ameren Corp. officials say the data center could also help stabilize demand for electricity that could help it avoid ramping production down and back up again, which is inefficient.
Ameren officials told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch they believe the utility is one of the first regulated U.S. utilities mining cryptocurrencies. The company has already collected more than 20 bitcoins, valued, as of Friday, at more than $60,000 apiece.
But critics question the $1 million project because they say it serves to artificially heighten demand for energy from coal and the utility could put the resources to better use elsewhere such as by pursuing technology like battery storage or electric vehicle charging stations.
"This really increases demand on the system, and therefore, demand for coal energy," said local Sierra Club official Andy Knott with the group's Beyond Coal Campaign. "I think what they're trying to do is avoid having to ramp down their generators."
Officials with the utility say they envisioned the high-powered computers as a flexible and controlled way to help manage the electrical load.
"The objective here is to help fill in valleys," said Warren Wood, the vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs for Ameren Missouri. "That helps run the system more efficiently."
The company said it is open to other uses for the computing power.
"A data center can do a lot of different things of value," Wood said. "Bitcoin just happens to be one of them."