Former Canfor sawmill site now mining bitcoin

Brian Fehr has been buying up old sawmill sites in B.C. to create new business ventures

Jason Louie, chief of Yaqan Nukiy First Nation (Lower Kootenay Band) presents gift to Brian Fehr, right, at grand opening of Columbia Lake Technology Centre. | Morgan Turner

An Australian company that bills itself as a renewable energy bitcoin miner has partnered with B.C. entrepreneur Brian Fehr in a venture that will mine bitcoin using clean BC Hydro power in the village of Canal Flats at a shuttered Canfor Corp. (TSX:CFP) sawmill.

Fehr and his group of investors – the Brian Fehr Group – are also behind the purchase of an old Canfor mill in Fort Nelson that will be used to build a new wood pellet producer called Peak Renewables. Fehr, an Order of BC recipient, was the founder of the BID Group, which supplies equipment and machinery for the forest industry.

At a grand opening today, Fehr and Iris Energy provided a tour of a new data centre at the old Canfor site in Canal Flats that will be used to mine bitcoin.

Fehr, who is a shareholder in Iris Energy, told BIV News that Iris Energy has invested roughly $35 million in the new data centre. He added that other data centres for bitcoin mining are also planned for Chetwynd and Mackenzie.

Cryptocurrency mining consumes huge amounts of power, as it requires hundreds of computers to create digital currencies. If that power comes from coal or natural gas, its carbon emissions intensity can be massive.

But power produced in B.C. is nearly 100% clean and renewable, coming mostly from large hydro-electric dams and run-of-river hydro, so bitcoin that is mined here would have a negligible carbon footprint.

The old Canfor site has grid connections, as well as fibre optic cable, which makes it ideal for high-tech businesses like data centres, Fehr said.

The old Canfor site is now called the Columbia Lake Technology Centre. Iris Energy has acquired 10 acres of the site for its data centre, which will consume up to 30 megawatts of power for the mining of virtual currency.

“It’s a 30 megawatt site and 20 megawatts are running now,” Fehr said. “We’ve spent millions on electrical infrastructure.”

He added that the data centre could be used for other purposes other than bitcoin mining. Fehr is hoping to attract other high-tech ventures to Canal Flats, where the plan is to create a high-tech industrial park.

“Iris Energy’s vision is to create sustainable data centre operations in partnership with rural communities facing economic uncertainty, creating new jobs and partnering with First Nations on whose traditional homelands we operate,” Iris Energy CEO Jason Conroy said in a news release.

As part of the new venture, Iris Energy is providing $500,000 to four Ktunaxa First Nations communities in the region.

Fehr said the new data centre in Canal Flats will employ 20 people.

“But we’re already growing in the province,” Fehr said. “We’re already started in Mackenzie and Chetwynd on our next facilities, so we’re growing more in the province. They’re also data centres and they’re also completely owned by Iris Energy.”

Canal Flats would not be the first community in B.C. where clean hydro power is being harnessed for bitcoin mining. The remote village of Ocean Falls, which has a hydro dam that was built to power a long-defunct pulp and paper mill, has recently seen a bitcoin maker, Ocean Falls Blockchain, set up in the remote village with plans to develop a small-scale bitcoin mining operation.

Iris Energy recently announced plans to raise $200 million prior to an initial public offering and listing on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, according to Bloomberg.