DICKENS COUNTY, Texas — Argo Blockchain’s $300 million “Helios” Bitcoin facility in Dickens County will mine tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency every day and create up to 40 jobs, prompting hope for revitalization in the small community.
“Nine months ago, this was a cow pasture. There was absolutely nothing here,” Argo Blockchain CEO Peter Wall said. “It’s an interesting contrast — rural Texas with this new cutting-edge technology, but it actually kind of works.”
Bitcoin is a digital currency that people can send and receive over the internet. Unlike the U.S. Dollar, it is not centralized in a government bank. Transactions are verified through a complex network of computers around the world called the blockchain.
“For some people, that might sound like Greek,” Wall admitted. “Essentially, miners are servers – high-powered computers that are processing transactions to verify them. So, the transactions are actually fairly simple to keep track of.”
“It’s like a big leger, but attached to each transaction is, and this is where it gets a little esoteric, a mathematical equation, and that equation needs to be solved in order for the transaction to be verified,” Wall said.
And that is where Argo’s massive facility near Afton, Texas comes in. When fully operational, the building will host more than 50,000 servers – each competing with other computers around the world to verify Bitcoin transactions first.
The inside of the facility is lined with industrial tanks, each filled with dozens of these computers submerged in a dielectric fluid that keeps them cool. Wall estimates their combined work will mine four to five Bitcoins per day, each currently worth almost $30,000.
“Then we can take that bitcoin and, at the time of our choosing, turn it into U.S. dollars, or we can hold it in bitcoin with the assumption that the value of bitcoin will continue to appreciate over time. And that’s what we’ve seen over the last few years, the last decade,” Wall said.
But the profit comes at a price. Some estimates report the energy it takes to mint one new Bitcoin could power the average home for 13 years. By that count, this facility could use a lifetime of household energy every day.
“We’ll have a couple gigawatts of crypto here in this state over the next few months,” ERCOT Vice Chairman Bill Flores said at the Argo facility’s grand opening on May 5. “That’s like the Austin metro area.”
But Argo came to Dickens to do it differently, capitalizing on West Texas’ plentiful renewable energy.
“The significance is the renewable energy that is being made available by our local wind farms and the cottonwood substation,” Dickens County Judge Kevin Brendle said. “It’s an attractant to crypto miners.”
Dickens doesn’t have much of a financial district. Its skyline, however, is far more important for Bitcoin. Argo is the new neighbor of the McAdoo wind farm, capable of blowing in 800 megawatts of clean cryptocurrency mining power.
And hopefully, it would also blow the winds of change for its people.
Dickens County dropped to less than 2,000 people in the most recent census. Almost half of them are over age 50, and nearly one in five live in poverty. Judge Brendle said his people are well aware of their need for more development
“They are understanding of our need for more business and more infrastructure and job opportunities, and people will come and move into the community and contribute,” he said.
The facility will bring up to 40 new full-time employees, many of them already living in Dickens.
“They are volunteering for our fire departments, our nonprofits, they send their children to our schools, joining our churches, shopping in our community, and bringing much needed income,” Judge Brendle said in front of a crowd of people from Dickens and around the world at the grand opening.
“These young families are becoming valuable members of our community – Argo is creating a bright future for Dickens County in many ways – we appreciate you, Argo,” Brendle also said.
It may be an adjustment for a rural area like Dickens, often seen as resistant to change by the boardrooms behind Bitcoin. But its people cite their predecessors of pioneers, and they see this as just the latest frontier.
“We are Texas,” Brendle said. “Our strength comes from our values for diversification, and we take the lead in many of those new industries, and again we have an opportunity to lead in this new industry. And Dickens County is taking its place in that ascent.”
Cryptocurrency is a gamble. Since Argo powered on, the coin it harvest has already lost nearly a fifth of its value in a sector-wide tumble. But the impact on the people is invaluable, and they are doubling down on Dickens.
“There are assumptions you make about rural Texas that are normally wrong. Coming here, we’ve been blown away by the talent and the hard work ethic by people in Dickens County, and so we think it’s an awesome place to be setting up as bitcoin miners,” Wall said.