ICYMI: Buffalo News Editorializes Against North Tonawanda's Digihost Crypto-mining Operation
NORTH TONAWANDA, NY (09/18/2023) (readMedia)-- This morning, the Buffalo News published an editorial against North Tonawanda's Digihost crypto-mining operation. The Editorial Board concluded that it's difficult to see how the plant's massive carbon emissions could be consistent with New York's nation-leading climate law, and the DEC must consider the application carefully. The Board also wrote:
"Digihost has produced no local jobs, other than a few security positions, though the company mined about 832 bitcoins in 2022.
Though there may be few jobs, according to neighbors, there is plenty of noise, generated from all the fans needed to keep these computers from overheating. In a recent News story, Caitlin Dewey reported that Jack Kanack – a meteorologist and trained noise-meter reader – found the plant emitting high levels of low-frequency noises.
And environmentalists point to the greenhouse gases that will be emitted if Digihost gets its wish and increases the Fortistar natural gas burning plant's output to full power. This could generate more than 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year – equivalent to the emissions from more than 66,000 motor vehicles."
In addition to the concerns outlined above, there are also serious concerns about local air pollution and local water pollution from the plant ramping up its operations to 24/7 cryptomining.
About crypto-mining at the Digihost/Fortistar power plant
It's been over two years since the Digihost/Fortistar power plant submitted its application for an air permit renewal. It previously served as a peaker power plant, only operating at 0.9% to 4% of its annual capacity over the last five years. But the plant was purchased by Digihost in February 2023, an out-of-state company, which is now transitioning the plant, and planning to ramp up to combust fracked gas 24/7/365 in order to mine Bitcoin. This will increase the plant's carbon substantially – equivalent to 63,170 cars being driven for one year, according to the company's own projections reported to the DEC. Methane pollution and local air pollution are also projected to increase.
While the City of North Tonawanda is surrounded by water and wildlife, it already bears the burden of significant pollution. Communities surrounding the gas plant have been designated as "disadvantaged communities" under state law, and include census tracts that the state has assessed as bearing an environmental burden greater than that borne by 90% of the state. The increase in operations from crypto-mining at the Digihost/Fortistar power plant will harm an already environmentally overburdened community, in violation of New York's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
Air pollution isn't the only negative impact of Digihost's operations - residents who live nearby the facility report they can hear its loud hum and feel the vibrations inside their homes, even with all of the windows and doors closed. One resident described the sound as "a jet engine running while you're sitting inside the plane." According to the New York Times, a growing body of research shows that chronic noise is a largely unrecognized health threat that increases the risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks.
On top of creating significant air pollution, there are also water use and discharge concerns. When the Digihost/Fortistar gas plant ramps up to 24/7 operations to mine crypto, it will use and then discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of hot water into an already-overburdened and aging municipal water system that is in need of major upgrades.
There's precedent in NYS for the DEC to deny Digihost's air permit. On June 30, 2022, the NYS DEC denied the Title V Air Permit renewal for Greenidge Generation, a crypto-mining facility in the Finger Lakes, citing dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, on November 22, 2022, Governor Hochul signed the first-in-the-nation two-year moratorium on new and renewed air permits for fossil-fueled power plants that produce their own energy to mine crypto. The new law requires the DEC perform a full environmental impact assessment on the energy and environmental impacts of crypto mining operations. However, the moratorium did not affect air permit applications that had already been submitted before its enactment, such as Greenidge's and Fortistar's applications.
Digihost has been operating on an air permit that expired on November 8, 2021, and its application for permit renewal has been pending for over two years.
In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that Earth is likely to cross a critical and dire threshold for global warming within the next decade if we don't quickly and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But after China banned proof-of-work crypto-mining (the process Bitcoin uses), citing, among other things, the environmental threats that mining poses to meeting emissions reduction goals, the U.S. is now hosting many energy-intensive proof-of-work crypto-mining operations. While these facilities of automated machines create few new jobs, they threaten the climate, in addition to small businesses, local economies, and natural resources.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining is an energy-intensive process that requires thousands of machines whirring 24/7 to solve complex equations. Each one of these machines requires energy to run, plus more energy for cooling. Globally, Bitcoin mining consumes more energy each year than entire countries.
Earlier this year, the New York Times published an in-depth expose about the negative impacts of proof-of-work Bitcoin mining. In September 2022, the White House sounded the alarm about cryptocurrency mining - the Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report about the industry's climate threats and the need for regulation. But cryptocurrency mining continues to grow rapidly across the country. Earthjustice and the Sierra Club released a Guidebook, finding that in one year from mid-2021 to mid-2022, Bitcoin mining in the U.S. alone consumed as much electricity as four states combined, emitting 27.4 million tons of CO2 - equivalent to the emissions of as much as 6 million cars annually. More highlights from the Guidebook:
- Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining has grown explosively in the United States since 2020. Today, an estimated 38% of Bitcoin is mined in the U.S.
- From mid-2021 to mid-2022, Bitcoin consumed 36 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity - as much as all of the electricity consumed in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island put together in that same time period.
- The massive energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining threatens to undermine decades of progress toward achieving climate goals and reducing local pollution. In addition, cryptocurrency mining practices raise costs and risks for utilities and their ratepayers, can stress electric grids, and flood communities with noise.
- The cryptocurrency mining industry already uses half the electricity of the entire global banking sector, and it will overtake the sector in two years if current trends continue. Meanwhile, the ratio of Bitcoin's energy consumption to humans who actually have Bitcoin is extremely high.
- Rather than investing in long-term energy infrastructure that benefits the grid, the cryptocurrency mining industry seeks the fastest energy that can serve its needs, and looks for minimal regulation and oversight. In practice, that translates to mining cryptocurrency at coal and gas plants, straining the electric grid in Texas, and tapping into power grids that are often fossil-fuel heavy.
Read the Sierra Club and Earthjustice guidebook here.
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.