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Aging Pa. power plants fuel crypto gold rush

Plus, how bots, teamwork sent unemployment fraud soaring.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 12, 2021
Virtual currency, COVID updates, prison vaccinations, fraud fuel, corruption case, housing codes, and an alligator and a pig. It's Thursday, PA Posters.
Cryptocurrency mining is incredibly power intensive, and Pennsylvania power plants are rushing to meet the demand, some finding they can make more money supplying electricity to bitcoin-style operations than selling it to the grid, the Post-Gazette reports. 

This includes a waste coal-fired plant in Venango County, the focus of the Post-Gazette article above. It also includes nuclear power plants in Luzerne and Beaver Counties that tout themselves as greenhouse gas-free — and therefore more environmentally friendly — options, per The Inquirer.

In Luzerne County, Talen Energy plans to build "a giant bitcoin factory" next to its twin reactors in Berwick, drawing pushback from locals

And in Beaver County, the owner of a Hookstown nuclear power plant has signed a five-year deal to provide "zero-carbon electricity" to bitcoin miners in nearby Ohio. 

THE CONTEXT: Cryptocurrency mining doesn't involve pickaxes or carts. Instead, it relies on walls of ultra-fast computers capable of interacting with a massive and decentralized digital payment network. (BBC has a seven-minute video explainer here.)

With nuclear power plants facing an existential crisis in states like Pennsylvania, their interest in cryptomining is clear, though not everyone is convinced they can keep prices low enough to be competitive.

Meanwhile, demand for cryptomining power sources is only expected to grow in the U.S. now that China has banned the practice, CNBC reports. 

In Pennsylvania, legislators are pushing for the creation of a task force on digital currency and its potential impacts on the state — a review of "necessary requirements for coin mining operations and other policy considerations" among the duties proposed. 
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that you, our loyal readers, will step up and contribute to journalism that holds the powerful to account and gets results. Put another way, without your support, we cease to exist.

If you value our vital investigative journalism, make a contribution of any amount and become a member now. 

"This is controversial, but I think part of it is trying to eliminate the confusions and, you know, put a damper on the misconceptions about the bill." 

—State Rep. Tim Hennessey (R., Chester) in a hearing on a bill that would grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania
VACCINE UPDATE: Some employers are weighing additional health coverage surcharges for employees who don't plan to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Becker's Hospital Review reports. Insurance companies are considering a similar approach. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CLIMBING COVID: Join us Wednesday, Aug. 25 at noon via Zoom for a free Q&A on what we know about rising COVID-19 cases and the state’s vaccine distribution efforts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A double rainbow spotted in Lawn. A sign of good fortune to start your Thursday. Thanks for sharing with us, Robert N.! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
COVID BRIEFING: A partial mask mandate is back in Philadelphia, Billy Penn reports; a judge's decision against Gov. Tom Wolf's COVID-19 restrictions has been tossed on appeal because the rules expired and "the issue is now moot," per the AP; and 77% of Pennsylvania counties are seeing "substantial" or "high" transmission rates

CLOSE QUARTERS: Thousands of unvaccinated people in Pennsylvania prisons will be housed together and denied in-person visits amid a statewide wave of new COVID-19 cases, the AP reports. Most people living in Pennsylvania prisons are now vaccinated, this after a bumpy rollout impeded by slow movement and distrust.

FRAUD FACTORS: Bots filing bogus claims in bulk, teams of fraudsters, and online identity theft tutorials all helped fuel a possibly historic surge in unemployment fraud seen during the pandemic, ProPublica reports. In Pennsylvania, Spotlight PA found victims of pandemic-era unemployment fraud were sometimes left holding the bill.

SEPTA SCHEME: Seven former SEPTA managers and two vendors have been charged in a yearslong embezzlement scheme federal authorities say bilked the transit agency out of $870,000, WHYY reports. Federal prosecutors have compiled a laundry list of alleged bribes and corrupt deals to obtain cash, rare coins, hunting equipment, and car parts.

CODE RED: Allegheny County enforcers frequently inspected but rarely fined two troubled McKeesport properties owned by the seventh-largest bank in the country, Pittsburgh-based PNC. PublicSource reports the revelation is raising questions about the county's archaic system, which lacks key housing quality mechanisms employed by other cities.
GOING GREEN: More Pennsylvania cities are rolling out "green infrastructure," like rain gardens, to cope with outdated sewer systems and stronger storms fueled by climate change, StateImpact reports. Some think it has the potential to address racial disparities — or make them worse.

BOOZE NEWZ: The Inquirer's list of the best cocktail bars in Philly includes a look at Prohibition's impact on the city's scene. Meanwhile, a bottle of Pennsylvania-made Overholt whiskey older than Prohibition is up for auction and expected to fetch a tidy sum, per the Post-Gazette.

FORGOTTEN NO MORE: A Civil War-era cemetery in Upper Allen Township now has a historical marker, per WITF. The graveyard holds the remains of roughly 80 Black residents, including 12 Civil War veterans who fought in segregated units. "They said it's rather a forgotten cemetery," a local noted.

SOUP-ER: A Pennsylvania Dutch chicken corn soup recipe from 30Seconds.com actually takes 45 minutes (go figure) but looks worth it. If that recipe isn't enough at four servings, no worries, LancasterOnline has eight more in its recipe book.

MISS MOLLY: Everyone say hi to Molly, a potbellied pig living in West Mifflin, just outside Pittsburgh, where her owner was genuinely concerned about the latest local alligator escape. As City Paper reports, summertime in Pittsburgh means one thing: errant gators taking to the streets.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

This week's theme:
Pennsylvania town names

Yesterday's answer: Coudersport

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Doris T., Bruce T., Barbara F., Susan D., Beth T., Craig E., Craig W., Susan N.Becky C., Ron P., Judith D., Don H., Diane P., Eddy Z., Brian B., Elaine C., George S., Jill A., Kevin H., James B., Dennis M., Mike B., Bruce F., Karen W., Karen M., Suzanne S., Tish M., David W., John A., Daniel M., Wendy A., and Johnny C.
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