UK Police Raid Suspected Cannabis Grow-op, Find Bitcoin Mine Instead

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Police raided an industrial site that showed all the telltale signs of an illicit cannabis growthop. They found a Bitcoin mine stealing power from the electric grid in its place.
Police raided an industrial site that showed all the telltale signs of an illicit cannabis growthop. They found a Bitcoin mining operation stealing power from the electric grid in its place. (Image: West Midlands Police)

UK Police made a shocking discovery during a raid of a suspected cannabis grow-op when they found a substantial Bitcoin mining operation instead of marijuana being illegally cultivated. 

West Midlands Police executed a forced-entry raid on a property in Great Bridge Industrial Estate in Sandwell after intelligence the department obtained showed every indication a grow-op was being conducted at the location. However, police instead found approximately 100 Bitcoin mining computers running on stolen power from the local electricity grid. 

“We heard how lots of people were visiting the unit at different times of day, lots of wiring and ventilation ducts were visible, and a police drone picked up a considerable heat source from above,” reads the May 27 Press Release

“They are all classic cannabis factory signs – but when officers gained entry they found a huge bank of around 100 computer units as part of what’s understood to be a Bitcoin mining operation.”

Photos from the raid show mining computers with a profile consistent with Chinese Communist Party-linked Bitmain’s Antminer labelled “S9 2016,” which likely refers to the models being the older S9 model, which has since been replaced by the S19 Pro. The units were affixed with HVAC ducting to their rear and the operation appears to be professionally venting its heat to the outside world. 

A 2017 article by IEEE Explorer that visited a large-scale mining operation in Inner Mongolia, China when the S9 was the cutting edge mining unit revealed each Antminer S9 used 189 ASIC semiconductors manufactured by industry-leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC).

Police uncovered 100 Bitcoin mining computers in a raid on a suspected cannabis grow-op. The devices have a profile consistent with Bitmain’s Antminer series and the labels appear to indicate they are the now outdated S9 model. They were found to be stealing their electricity from the grid.
Police uncovered 100 Bitcoin mining computers in a raid on a suspected cannabis grow-op. The devices have a profile consistent with Bitmain’s Antminer series and the labels appear to indicate they are the now outdated S9 model. They were found to be stealing their electricity from the grid. (Image: West Midlands Police UK)

Each S9 produces approximately 13.5 terahashes of calculating power and is rated for 1350 watts. According to NiceHash’s mining profitability calculator, if electricity were free, 100 Antminer S9s would produce approximately $294 USD per day worth of Bitcoin at a current price of approximately $34,000 USD.

According to UK energy savings website Love Energy Savings, the average price of power in the West Midlands is 24 pence per KWh, which works out to a prohibitive 32 cents USD. By comparison, electricity in the state of New York is approximately 15 cents per KWh and the U.S. national average is about 12 cents. 

Based on the extraordinary cost of electricity in the West Midlands, if the operation were paying for electricity it would be paying the grid close to $26,000 USD per month and the operation would go from profitable to losing a staggering $562 USD per day. 

The Nice Hash calculation is only applicable for the mining hardware itself and does not include the cost of the HVAC setup to vent the enormous heat created by ASIC semiconductors, the cost of high speed, low latency internet, or the cost of rent and utilities for the building housing the operation in its business calculations.

The operation at 100 mining rigs, just for the computers alone, consumed that of approximately 100 U.S. households each month. 

Based on a 1,350 watt consumption running 24/7, 97,000 KWh per month were sucked up from the power grid illegally. According to website iProperty Research, the average U.S. household uses approximately 914 KWh per month, with the state of Tennessee the highest at 1,283 KWh per month.

West Midlands Police say they seized the equipment and will be proceeding with sequestering it under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The operation is only the second operation law enforcement has discovered in the region. 

The unit was unoccupied at the time of the raid and no arrests have been made.

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.