DEC Tries to Pull 11th Hour Bait & Switch, Give Greenidge More Time to Meet Expired Water Permit Conditions
Modified permit acknowledges October 1, 2022 as last day for Greenidge to install screens but grants Greenidge - an energy-guzzling cryptomine with a rejected air permit - an extension anyway
DRESDEN, NY (10/03/2022) (readMedia)-- Three days before Greenidge Generation's five-year State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit was set to expire, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) attempted to change the expiring permit to give Greenidge more time to make modifications intended to protect the Seneca Lake's aquatic life. But both the original and modified permit contain language clearly stating that the last day to install the required screens was October 1, 2022, prohibiting DEC from granting Greenidge an extension. Permit modifications are not allowed to change the final compliance date in a permit, which here is October 1, 2022.
This morning, FLX residents, winemakers, and Assembly Member Anna Kelles responded to this 11th hour bait and switch. Watch the zoom press conference here.
Seneca Lake Guardian would have advised DEC of the illegality of the permit modification, had DEC given advance public notice of the modification and an opportunity to comment. Instead, Seneca Lake Guardian got wind of the permit change buried in the response to comments to the Article 15 permit. DEC initially rejected Seneca Lake Guardian's request for the modified permit but provided the permit later the same day.
Greenidge has had the SPDES permit for five years, but did not apply for the permits needed to install the screens until March 2022. Greenidge's failure to timely install the screens does not justify an extension past October 1, 2022. Greenidge's water permit expired on September 30, and DEC claimed to set this new compliance deadline past the permit expiration date–a move that doesn't pass the smell test.
"The DEC's latest move is inconsistent, irrational, and undemocratic," said Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian. "Those of us who live with Greenidge's daily threats should be heard in this process, not just Connecticut-based speculators desperate to leach as much money as possible out of the Finger Lakes. Instead of sneakily moving the goalposts at the end of the game, the DEC should shut Greenidge down and proceed with the permit renewal process with public input. We will be exploring our legal options."
"We should not have to keep fighting these battles at every turn. There is overwhelming evidence that proof-of-work cryptomining is harming our environment. If Governor Hochul is serious about upholding our nation-leading climate laws, she should sign my moratorium bill and prevent the use of our old retired fossil-fuel power plants for personal corporate gain," said Assembly Member Anna Kelles.
"It's beyond disheartening to see Greenidge slip through and evade oversight from our regulators, all the while they continue to emit pollution into our air and precious lake and threaten our wine industry," said Vinny Aliperti, co-owner, Billsboro Winery. "The NYS wine industry generates $6.6 billion in economic activity, $2.4 billion in taxes, and employs over 60,000 right here in the Finger Lakes. NYS needs to get its priorities straight. The DEC should shut Greenidge down and begin a public and transparent water permit renewal process."
Greenidge's SPDES permit was granted when the facility operated as a peaker plant. Now that Greenidge primarily produces its own power using fracked gas to mine Bitcoin for private profit, it does not serve the public interest. Earlier this year, the DEC recognized this material change in operations when it denied Greenidge's air permit renewal because its operations pose a threat to New York's greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals. A climate analysis was apparently not necessary for this SPDES permit extension, even though a climate analysis of the air permits showed that Greenidge's operations are in violation of NYS law.
While Greenidge wreaks havoc on the Finger Lakes, it's making a major push to beat the buzzer and boost revenue. Gothamist recently reported that:
"The company has added about 10,000 computers and mined about 300 bitcoins in July alone, which would be worth more than $6 million. Their hash rates, a unit of how much power the bitcoin network is using, increased by nearly 70% over the last four months. The trend means that even amid this year's dramatic drop in cryptocurrency prices, Greenidge Generation is on track to have its best year ever - if it can stay open."
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining is an extremely energy intensive process that threatens the ability of governments across the globe to reduce our dependence on climate-warming fossil fuels. Mining requires thousands of machines whirring 24/7 to solve complex equations. The more machines that are running, the faster a coin is mined. Each one of these machines requires energy to run, plus more energy for cooling. According to a new Guidebook from Earthjustice and the Sierra Club, from July 2021-22 Bitcoin mining in the U.S. alone consumed as much electricity as four states combined, emitting as much as 6 million cars annually. The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy recently put out a groundbreaking report that confirms proof-of-work cryptomining is incompatible with federal and local emissions reductions goals, and it cannot continue unabated.
Cryptocurrency mining facilities are major emitters of air pollutants. And when cryptocurrency miners rely on the public grid, they can stick everyday people with the bill. A 2021 study estimates "the power demands of cryptocurrency mining operations in upstate New York push up annual electric bills by about $165 million for small businesses and $79 million for individuals." Powering Bitcoin mining with renewables is not a viable solution, as renewables supply cannot possibly meet the extreme energy demands of Bitcoin mining in addition to daily necessities such as heating and cooling homes and running cars. Any renewable energy that supports Bitcoin mining is renewable energy that is being diverted from the public grid.
On June 30, after more than a year of advocacy by residents, business owners, wine makers, environmental activists, and elected officials, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied Greenidge Generation a renewal of its Title V Air Permit. Greenidge has been operating as a 24/7 proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining facility for Bitcoin under grandfathered in permits for other usage.
Located on the shores of Seneca Lake, Greenidge is a once-mothballed power plant that was converted into a bitcoin mine by the private equity firm that owns it. The plant has brought only 48 new jobs to the region compared to the existing $3 billion agritourism economy, employing approximately 60,000 people, while poisoning the Finger Lakes' natural resources. With over 17,000 Bitcoin machines and plans to expand to 32,500, if permitted to continue operating and expanding, Greenidge would emit over one million tons of CO2 each year, equivalent to that of 100,000 homes. Greenidge also sucks 139 million gallons of water each day from Seneca Lake and dumps it back in at up to 108 degrees, risking toxic algal blooms that would make this water source for 100,000 people non-potable.
Greenidge is just the beginning, and advocates are urging Governor Hochul to put a statewide moratorium on proof-of-work cryptomining. New York hosts a significant portion of the U.S.'s Bitcoin mining to the detriment of small businesses, local economies, the environment, and the climate.
At a recent Environmental Conservation budget hearing when asked about the potential impact of the escalating cryptocurrency mining activity in upstate NY on the states energy grid, the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) President Doreen Harris stated, "There could be a very significant impact on NY load resulting from cryptocurrency mining depending on the penetration of the resource."
Cryptomining is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment. Revitalizing old polluting power plants for private financial gain, with drastic consequences for our air, water and climate, all while causing huge amounts of noise pollution, is now unconstitutional - and ought to be treated as such.
Reform groups Common Cause/NY and NYPIRG have specifically criticized the crypto mining industry for exploiting public resources and straining the energy grid for private gain, and a group of federal lawmakers led by Senator Elizabeth Warren requested details from six major Bitcoin mining companies about their electricity usage and contributions to climate change.
More than 1,000 organizations, businesses, environmental activists, concerned residents, wine makers, elected officials, and more have taken action over the last year in opposition to crypto mining in New York State. A letter sent to Governor Hochul in October was signed by more than 650 individuals and groups. In letters to Governor Cuomo last year opposing Greenidge Generation's expansion from an emergency peaker plant to a 24/7 Bitcoin mining operation, organizations, businesses, and Finger Lakes residents demanded Gov. Cuomo revoke Greenidge's permits due to its massive greenhouse gas emissions, poisoning of the Finger Lakes, and noise pollution, with no economic benefit to the community. Greenidge Generation is still operating in Dresden, NY under grandfathered-in permits granted for use as a peaker plant, not 24/7 Bitcoin mining. Greenidge has applied for an air permit renewal and is awaiting a decision from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Similar fights have occurred in Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls, which resulted in local moratoriums.
About Seneca Lake Guardian
Seneca Lake Guardian is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation with 501(c)(3) and is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations.