There is a fight in the Finger Lakes over a climate-killing Bitcoin mine, and the outcome of a single DEC permit renewal could open the floodgates to similar facilities across the state.
Vinyards on Seneca Lake
The Greenidge Generating Station, located along Seneca Lake in Yates County, operated as a coal plant from 1937 until 2011, when it was sold for scrap. A few years later, in 2014, Greenidge proposed to convert the retired coal plant into a natural gas burning unit with the construction of a 5-mile fracked gas pipeline. When the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) granted air and water permits for the Greenidge facility without first pursuing a normally-required SEQRA environmental impact review, it was inferred that the company would only operate intermittently during periods of peak power demand, and during times when its expensive, inefficient power could bid competitively into the state’s energy markets. But in 2019, Greenidge revealed its plan to run a Bitcoin mining operation at the plant, which would mean 24/7 operation at near full capacity. Greenidge’s original Title V air permits were issued without any mention of Bitcoin mining or the environmental impacts associated with such operations. “Proof of Work” (POW) cryptocurrency mining, the method being used at Greenidge, consumes a tremendous amount of energy in order to operate computer banks that run nonstop to solve complex math equations. It is estimated that the global Bitcoin network can consume as much energy as entire countries, such as Argentina or Norway. In the first year of operation, Bitcoin mining at the plant increased Greenidge’s harmful air emissions tenfold. The unmitigated 139 million gallons a day of lake water the plant is allowed to withdraw kills hundreds of thousands of fish annually and the heated water that returns to the lake contributes to harmful algal blooms. Greenidge threatens the environmental and economic sustainability of the region, and is not consistent with the goals outlined by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). We have to stop this facility now. In the future, most of the energy generated at the plant will power the private operation of Greenidge’s Bitcoin mine. The financial rewards will remain within the company and its investors, while the environmental impacts are externalized, impacting our local community, our state, and
our ever-changing climate. In order for Greenidge to continue operating, they need a renewed Title V Air Permit, which the DEC has the power to approve or deny. Under Governor Cuomo, the DEC failed to conduct a thorough environmental review as required by SEQRA. Now, the DEC and Governor Hochul have the opportunity to demonstrate that New York is serious about climate change by denying this permit renewal. Allowing Greenidge to continue running an energy consumptive bitcoin mining facility will establish a precedent that could exempt other fossil fuel facilities across New York from complying with our climate laws and threaten air and water quality. The DEC recently ruled that the construction of major new gas fired power plants does not comply with the state’s climate laws. Please send a message today urging the DEC to view this facility through that same lens of New York’s historic Climate Law. Tell them to deny the Title V Air Permit renewal for Greenidge and declare a moratorium on all POW cryptocurrency operations until a full Environmental Impact Statement is conducted. Thank you for all you do to protect NY’s environment.
Roger Downs Conservation Director Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter