ICYMI: W/ Expired Air Permit And Soon-to-Expire Water Permit, Greenidge Continues to Threaten the Finger Lakes
DRESDEN, NY (09/07/2022) (readMedia)-- Last week, WSKG reported about a push from environmental activists and Finger Lakes residents for the EPA to intervene and block the renewal of Greenidge Generation's water permit known as the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES). The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied Greenidge's air permit renewal on June 30 because its operations are inconsistent with the state's climate goals. However, Greenidge is still operating as it appeals the decision and attempts to renew its water permit, which is set to expire on September 30, 2022. WSKG reports:
"At the core of the issue, environmental activists argue, is that the facility is now using much of the electricity it generates, and therefore more water, to mine cryptocurrency, compared to the last time the permit was renewed in 2017.
'This facility is having the same harm, and frankly even more harm right, because now it's operating 24/7, than it was having back in the 70s," Jill Heap, a lawyer for EarthJustice said. "So, at this point, it's really important, the fact that this is not a public benefit power-generating facility, but is operating for cryptocurrency mining, completely changes the balance of cost to benefit.'"
Earthjustice, on behalf of Seneca Lake Guardian, Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, Fossil Free Tompkins, and Sierra Club - Atlantic Chapter, sent a letter to the EPA requesting the agency intervene in the water permit review for Greenidge Generation. The letter reads:
"We ask EPA to please immediately intervene in this process to protect water quality and aquatic life in Seneca Lake and to protect the residents and visitors that enjoy these natural resources. Urgently, we seek to block the imminent installation of wedgewire screen technology on the water intake, which will harm the environment during installation and does not represent Best Technology Available for a cryptomining facility. We also seek to have the SPDES renewal application denied and the facility stop discharging as of September 30, 2022."
The letter outlines the many issues with Greenidge Generation's effect on Seneca Lake and its permit application, including:
- The application does not reflect the plant's material change in operations from a power plant producing energy for public benefit into a 24/7 cryptomining plant that creates virtual, speculative "currency" only to make rich people richer.
- Only now, with one month left in its current five-year SPDES permit, is Greenidge taking steps to install the wedgewire screens once deemed necessary to protect the lake's aquatic life from being sucked up and blended by the plant's water intake pipe. Worse, this type of screen was deemed necessary based on studies completed in 2010, before Greenidge started burning fracked gas 24/7/365. These screens will only be 77% effective, but 100% effective technology (closed-cycle cooling) exists. Greenidge just isn't installing it.
- Greenidge's constant hot water discharge (the plant dumps water into the lake up to 108 degrees) is allowed based on a 45-year old study, and there has not been enough research to determine the effects this discharge is having on Seneca Lake.
- Dredging is expected to take place in an area where the lake bottom has high levels of toxic contaminants like mercury and lead in the sediment.
- The current permit allows Greenidge to discharge mercury into Seneca Lake at levels much higher than New York's mercury water quality standard.
- The DEC should have already involved the EPA in reviewing Greenidge's permit renewal application under New York law.
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. After China banned cryptomining, citing the environmental threats the practice poses to meeting emissions reduction goals, outside speculators have flocked to upstate New York to take advantage of our clean air, cool temperatures, fresh water, and lack of cryptocurrency mining environmental regulations.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining (which Bitcoin uses) is an extremely energy-intensive process that 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 to run cooling technology. Globally, proof-of-work Bitcoin mining uses the same amount of energy each year as the entire country of Argentina. It produces 30,700 metric tons of e-waste each year, comparable to the yearly IT equipment waste of the Netherlands. If left unregulated, the industry will wreak irrevocable harm on the entire state of New York, making it impossible to reach New York's crucial climate goals as outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA commits to an 85% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040.
These facilities are also major emitters of methane and toxic air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are precursors of ground level ozone pollution and known causes of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, reproductive damage and preterm birth.
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. And when crypto miners rely on the public grid, they stick everyday New Yorkers 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.
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 recently requested details from six major Bitcoin mining companies about their electricity usage and contributions to climate change. Earlier this month, President Biden issued an executive order requiring federal agencies study the legal, economic, and environmental impacts of cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin mining.
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 expired grandfathered-in permits granted for use as a peaker plant, not 24/7 Bitcoin mining. 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.