EPHRATA - After setting its cryptocurrency rates in August of 2018, the Grant County Public Utility District is facing a lawsuit.
Mention of the lawsuit was made during Tuesday’s commission meeting in Ephrata. Utility officials say Grant PUD is being sued by nine cryptocurrency-related firms who allege Grant PUD, it’s commissioners and some employees acted inappropriately in creating and approving a new rate that raises electricity costs for them and other new “evolving industry” customers.
Starting April 1, 2019, high-power cryptocurrency miners and other comparable operations will pay the first of a three-year, graduated increase to a new, above-cost electric rate designed to mitigate Grant PUD financial risk and maintain low cost rates for core customers. Known as “Rate 17," its paying “evolving-industry” customers will receive a 15 percent increase in 2019, a 35 percent increase in 2020 and a 50 percent increase in 2021.
Since summer 2017, Grant PUD has received new service inquiries for more than 2,000 megawatts of power — more than three times the electricity needed to power all Grant County homes, farms, businesses and industry. Approximately 75 percent of those requests are from cryptocurrency miners.
During Tuesday's meeting, utility officials announced that the PUD will cover cost of legal defense for commissioners Tom Flint, Dale Walker and Larry Schaapman, as well as former commissioners Terry Brewer and Bob Bernd, and ten PUD employees.
Commissioners Tom Flint and Larry Schaapman made the following remarks about bitcoin miners last year:
“Your industry is unregulated and high-risk,” said Commissioner Tom Flint to a handful of cryptocurrency miners who attended the August meeting. “This is the best way to ensure our ratepayers are not impacted by this unregulated, high-risk business.”
“I don’t view miners as villains,” Commissioner Larry Schaapman said. “You have likened yourselves to the data centers, but you can only do one thing — mine bitcoin.”
According to Grant PUD officials, “evolving-industry” firms present three main types of risk for Grant PUD:
Regulatory Risk. They are vulnerable to potential changes in regulation that could render the industry unviable within the foreseeable future.
Business Risk. They are an unproven industry with higher potential for cessation due, in part, to large swings in the value of their primary output.
Concentration Risk. They pose the potential for significant concentration of electrical load and revenue risk to Grant PUD if one or all stop operating in a short period of time.
Grant PUD released the following statement about the lawsuit on Thursday:
“With regards to the litigation we are aware of the litigation and plan to file a response to the notice of complaint in federal court before the end of the month.”