Wolfe judge-exec says noise barrier planned for suspected crypto ‘mine’

Residents have complained for weeks of constant high-pitched din from ‘data center’

By: - October 12, 2023 5:50 am
A silver sedan sits at the entrance of Artemis Power Tech's facility.

Artemis Power Tech’s facility sits among the Wolfe County woods, power lines connecting it to the nearby substation. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

Wolfe County Judge-Executive Raymond Banks says a Houston company running a new data center — suspected to be a cryptocurrency mining facility — in his Eastern Kentucky county plans to erect a barrier to dampen its constant noise which has drawn complaints from neighbors for weeks.

But Banks says he opposes calls for the county government to enact a noise ordinance because he says that could hamper economic development.

“I’m not going to stop our whole county because of one noise complaint. I’m not going to do it,” Banks said. “Anytime you get into that noise ordinance — same as zoning — you get into chaos. It gets everything out of control.” 

Houston, Texas-based Artemis Power Tech began operating the  facility in August next to an electrical substation near the Wolfe-Lee county line, creating a high-pitched, persistent whirring. Residents near the facility have been aggravated by the unabated din in recent weeks and worry about the noise’s impacts on wildlife in particular.  

In an interview Wednesday morning, Banks, Wolfe County’s top elected official, said an Artemis Power Tech representative had told him a noise barrier would be put in place. He said he wasn’t sure what kind of noise barrier the company had in mind.

“They’re going to fix it. It’s just going to take some time,” Banks said. “I’m working as hard as I can on it.” 

Brenda Campbell wears black sunglasses and a shirt that reads, "Home Is Where The Whip-Poor-Will Sings."
Brenda Campbell has lived at her Wolfe County home since 1980, back when she says her community was much more quiet. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

Brenda Campbell, who lives next to the facility and has been seeking action from the county government, told the Lantern that a noise ordinance would have been a better solution. But she’s hopeful the barrier Artemis Power Tech says it is installing will minimize the noise.

“This is not perfect. But if it will curb the noise, then I’m all for trying it. I hope that they’re honorable and will do what they say,” Campbell said. “I’m uncertain about it because I don’t know how much noise it will stop.”

Banks said Wolfe County struggles with poverty and needs to capitalize on any economic development it can get, mentioning an influx of cabins into the county in recent years to accommodate tourism. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 29% of Wolfe County’s approximately 6,400 residents are in poverty, nearly double the state average.

The Red River originates in Wolfe County. Part of the county is in the Daniel Boone National Forest’s Red River Gorge Geological Area, which attracts climbers from all over the world and is a favorite destination of hikers and campers from a multi-state area. The data center is about six miles from Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

“We don’t have nothing here, and the only way we’re going to get anything is let these people come in here,” Banks said. 

Creation Falls is a popular destination for tourists in Wolfe County. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Jamie Lucke)

Artemis Power Tech doesn’t say explicitly what it’s using its data center for in Wolfe County, but previous reporting by the Lantern suggests the facility is a cryptocurrency mining facility. The chief operating officer and co-founder of Artemis Power Tech did not respond to requests for an interview about the proposed noise barrier. 

Cryptocurrency mining facilities typically use immense amounts of power to run numerous computers; the fans cooling the machines create significant noise. In the case of the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin, those machines solve complex mathematical problems to provide security for online transactions of Bitcoin. As a reward for solving those problems, the cryptocurrency mining facility is rewarded with Bitcoin itself. Each Bitcoin is valued at more than $25,000 as of early October. 

Generally, these operations aren’t major job creators. Some cryptocurrency mining advocates argue the revenue created from electricity sales to power the facilities could delay future utility bill hikes, though environmental groups warn that such facilities can instead be detrimental to consumers by raising utility rates

Lane Boldman

The leader of a statewide environmental conservation nonprofit recently visited the data center site in Wolfe County. Lane Boldman, executive director of the Kentucky Conservation Committee, said she understood the desire for economic development but that impacts of such development to a community should also be weighed.

“People go to these areas for peace and quiet,” Boldman said. “You want to encourage people to come out and enjoy the region but not doing it in a way that’s disruptive 24-7. And that’s the difference with the crypto mining operation is it’s disruptive 24-7.” 

Boldman said it was unfortunate Wolfe County’s judge-executive wasn’t open to considering a noise ordinance, saying it’s possible to tailor such an ordinance to have “quiet hours” during certain times. In Arkansas, some local governments have passed noise ordinances directed at cryptocurrency mining facilities, but a new state law that went into effect in August now prohibits local governments from passing such noise regulations. 

“There’s certainly a lot of new businesses in that region that are more geared toward the outdoor recreation economy that can have certain noise issues that are more temporary,” Boldman said. “There has to be some consideration of noise that is so disruptive, it makes it impossible for people to have a living in the region.” 

An ATV park is located near the data center, but neighbors say its noise is seasonal and sporadic.

Campbell, the neighbor who has lobbied for a local noise ordinance, said she tried to talk to Banks about how an ordinance could address facilities or events that operate nonstop, such as the Artemis Power Tech data center, while excluding businesses or events that create temporary noise. 

She said looking beyond her own situation, the enormous power consumption of cryptocurrency mining operations and the perceived lack of regulation on such facilities in Kentucky trouble her. But she’s unsure of what action can be done among local governments to address noise from operations similar to the Artemis Power Tech. 

She also doesn’t understand why Wolfe County leadership is “afraid” of implementing zoning regulations, which the county currently doesn’t have, especially with the growth of outdoor recreation in the area. Under a zoning process, a hypothetical cryptocurrency mining facility, she said, would have had to approach county officials before establishing itself. 

At a Wolfe County Fiscal Court meeting on Tuesday, she said she told Banks and her county magistrates she wasn’t going to drop the noise issue until it’s resolved. 

“I think they’re trying to appease an old woman that aggravates them,” she said. 

A white and red barn sits on the wooded hillside near the Wolfe-Lee county line.
A scene along the Wolfe-Lee county line in Eastern Kentucky near the Artemis Power Tech facility. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.