DICKENS COUNTY — Nestled a few miles north of the town of Dickens down a gravel county road is a 125,000 square-foot warehouse full of high-tech supercomputing equipment that seemed to pop up almost overnight.
In 2019, Dickens County Judge Kevin Brendle received a random email that eventually led to this new datacenter breaking ground about eight months ago. Now, the facility is churning out Bitcoin in the Gateway to the Rolling Plains.
The facility is Argo Blockchain’s new flagship cryptocurrency mining center, dubbed “Helios,” which opened to much fanfare Thursday morning at the site between Afton and McAdoo.
The festivities at Thursday’s grand opening included remarks from elected officials and company executives, guided tours, a catered meal and live music. U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo, and Lubbock Republicans state Rep. Dustin Burrows and state Sen. Charles Perry were all on hand to congratulate the company and community on the achievement.
Argo is based in the United Kingdom and maintains offices in Quebec, Canada and Houston, but CEO Peter Wall says “It’s kind of based here now. We have more people employed in Dickens County than any other place. This is our flagship mining facility. This is a huge, huge place for us.”
Wall says the datacenter will be capable of mining around 25 Bitcoin per day, or about five times the company’s current output. Based on Saturday’s Bitcoin value, that would mean the Dickens facility could generate about $900,000 in revenue per day for Argo, though Bitcoin values fluctuate wildly.
Mining, Wall says, is basically the process of receiving new Bitcoin in as a reward for verifying other Bitcoin transactions through complex mathematical computations on a computer network.
“In our current financial system, if I’m going to send you some money from one place to another, you use a bank, and the bank is the trusted third party,” Wall said. “In the Bitcoin network, you use a network of decentralized computers that are spread out around the world. We’re part of that network.”
Why West Texas?
Argo chose Dickens County to build its 200-megawatt facility because of the abundant supply of cheap wind energy, Wall said, which is important because of the company’s focus on sustainability as they plan to quadruple the output of the Dickens facility in the near future.
“The main thing that you need to be a Bitcoin miner is power, and what there’s lots of in West Texas is power, particularly wind power,” Wall said, noting that power in Dickens County costs less than half of what it does at the company’s facility in Quebec.
The county’s people also drew them in.
“People in Dickens County are really talented and hard-working,” Wall said. “We’ve got 26 people employed now in Dickens County and 45 in the region. We’re now the largest employer in the county, other than the school systems.”
County Judge Kevin Brendle — who jokingly referred to himself as “Bitcoin Brendle” — said that Argo’s use of power and people is beneficial not just to the county, but to the community as well.
“What Argo brings to Dickens County is hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure, which will equate to millions of dollars of tax revenue over the next five years that will go into our school systems and our county budgets,” Brendle said. “It will bring people in to work who will spend their money here, and at some point in time, we hope to expand our housing so we can bring more people here, because what they’re doing here, this facility, is just the first step.”
“The impact to our community is better jobs with benefits, insurance, retirement, vacation. It will be a tax boon for our school districts and the county,” he added.
In addition, Brendle says that computing facilities like Argo’s could help to stabilize the ERCOT grid by using up existing excess power and shutting down when requested by the grid operator.
“The energy they’re pulling is called ‘excess energy’. They’re not drawing on energy that any other businesses or homes are utilizing. The substation has a congestion of energy. There’s more coming in than there’s an offload, so the company is able to sell that excess energy really cheap to companies like Argo,” Brendle said. “But, when the time comes that the ERCOT system needs it, they’ll send it back onto the grid.”
Several of the elected officials who spoke during Thursday’s ceremonies referred to the Argo Helios facility as “the tip of the iceberg,” and Brendle concurs with that assessment.
“I get calls from Bitcoin miners every week that want to move in here,” Brendle said. “We’re not recruiting them. The recruitment was done when the renewable energy came. They’re coming. They’re coming.”