On April 16th, the state of Washington passed a bill that sets tough new climate goals for the state’s data centers and cryptocurrency industry.
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and data centers and cryptocurrency mining have been identified as significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, it is essential to implement measures to address these sources of emissions.
The new law puts Washington at the forefront of climate action in the technology sector, which is particularly important as the state is home to some of the biggest players in the industry.
Under the new legislation, data centers are required to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. The bill also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the cryptocurrency industry, which uses a considerable amount of energy, by mandating carbon-free sources of electricity by 2025.
The legislation was sponsored by Senator Joe Nguyen, who said, “This bill is tackling the largest contributor to carbon emissions that is not regulated currently in our state: data centers.”
The legislation has received support from tech companies, including Microsoft, which has pledged to be carbon-negative by 2030 and has already begun its transition to renewable energy.
Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, said, “We’re pleased to see that the state of Washington recognizes the immense contribution that data centers can make to shaping a low-carbon future.”
The cryptocurrency industry has also seen significant growth in Washington, with several large mining operations in the state. However, the industry has come under scrutiny for its high energy consumption, with estimates suggesting that Bitcoin mining alone accounts for over 0.5% of global electricity consumption.
The new legislation in Washington aims to address these concerns by requiring cryptocurrency mining companies to use carbon-free sources of electricity by 2025.
The bill is another example of the growing movement towards sustainable energy in the tech sector. It follows initiatives by companies like Google, which has achieved 100% renewable energy for its data centers, and Apple, which is committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030.
The legislation in Washington is also in line with the Biden administration’s commitment to tackling climate change. President Biden has set a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and the new bill in Washington will contribute to this effort.
The legislation has been applauded by environmental groups, who see it as a step towards a more sustainable future.
Pam Kiely, Senior Director of Regulatory Strategy for the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “The climate crisis demands urgent action from all industries, and the data center industry is no exception. This bill is a critical step forward for Washington, and we hope it will inspire other states to take action as well.”
In conclusion, the new legislation in Washington sets an important precedent for the tech industry in the fight against climate change. It sends a clear message that even the most advanced and profitable industries must acknowledge their contribution to the climate crisis and take action to reduce their emissions.
The bill is an essential step towards achieving a more sustainable future, and it is encouraging to see businesses and lawmakers working together to achieve this goal. We hope that the legislation will inspire other states and countries to follow suit and take bold action to address the climate crisis.
Proposals to regulate carbon emissions tied to crypto mining and data centers took different paths in Oregon and Washington during the 2023 legislative session.
In Washington, a bill that closed a loophole allowing some crypto mining operations to buy non-renewable power from the market sailed through the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. The law mandates that customers of rural utility districts reduce the emissions from any electricity they buy on the market, in line with the timelines approved in the state’s Clean Energy Transformation Act.
In Oregon, a bill that sought to impose emissions reduction timelines on crypto miners and data centers failed, with much opposition from areas with established data centers and crypto operations. The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Southern Jackson County, who said Amazon, which operates several data centers in eastern Oregon, lobbied against it and organized opposition in the community.
Crypto mining operations and data centers use enormous amounts of electricity, leading to concerns about fish death and algae blooms from heated water discharge and the reopening of closed coal plants to meet the demand for power. While many companies, including Apple and Microsoft, have set their carbon-negative goals, crypto mining and data centers have been subject to few climate-related regulations in either Oregon or Washington.
Marsh’s bill would have required future Oregon data centers and large-scale crypto miners to power their facilities with 80% clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2040, in line with timelines that investor-owned utilities already follow. An Amazon spokesperson said the company objected to the bill because it did not address the build-out of electric infrastructure that is needed to bring more clean energy to the grid.
However, opponents of the legislation argued that it unfairly targeted important industries in their communities, with some saying that it eliminated one of the few job-growth and community-building opportunities Eastern Oregon desperately needs.
In contrast, the bill brought forward in Washington to deal with the same potential problem found friendlier audiences. State energy officials had to close a loophole that allowed some crypto mining operations to purchase non-renewable power from the market. Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act already includes consumer-owned utilities. The bill, therefore, sought to hold non-residential industrial customers to the same standards as the rest of the community.
While Washington’s bill found support, Marsh said she’s not clear on the best way to address carbon emissions tied to the tech industry. Still, she’s hopeful that the bill will advance further if she brings a version back in a future session.
The passage of the Washington bill and the failure of the Oregon bill highlighted the difficulties in regulating carbon emissions from crypto miners and data centers. Indeed, as these industries continue to grow, regulators will have to find a way to balance economic growth with environmental concerns.