Mining Controversy Part 2: Environmental Concerns
DRESDEN, N.Y.(WENY) -- New York's Finger Lakes region is known for its wine and beautiful scenery. The region is home to pristine waterfalls and gorges, deeply carved lakes, over 100 wineries, breweries and distilleries. It’s also home to one of the largest Bitcoin mining facilities in the United States.
Greenidge Generation, a business owned by private investment and equity firm Atlas Holdings, is the current operator of a former coal-fired electrical power plant. The large brick facility is located lakeside in the town of Torrey, immediately next to the Keuka Lake Outlet, a river connecting neighboring Keuka Lake to Seneca Lake. After being shuttered for almost a decade when the former owner went bankrupt, Greenidge took over the facility; bringing it back online and using natural gas to create electricity for the market. A company spokesman says Greenidge invested tens of millions of dollars to convert the dormant facility to run on natural gas.
Greenidge Generation also uses the power it generates to supply electricity to operate its 7,000 Bitcoin mining machines, working 24-7 in the blockchain to mine the cryptocurrency. In November 2020, Greendige’s facility received approval from the town of Torrey Planning Board in a four-to-one vote to expand its operation, which would allow the facility to start building four new buildings to the west side of its property.
Following this vote, several environmental groups in the region filed a lawsuit against both the town and Greenidge Generation. The lawsuit “alleged that such approval violated various state laws, including the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, Environmental Conservation Law…”
Due to the potential for the operation to have an impact on not just the Town of Torrey but also Yates County, the Yates County Planning Board voted against the operations expansion proposal. The vote was then sent back to the Town of Torrey for a revote where Greenidge Generation received the green light from the Town of Torrey planning board, to build four new buildings, which would house more Bitcoin mining machines.
According to Dale Irwin, Greenidge generation CEO, these buildings will be home to 10,000 more Bitcoin mining machines bringing the facility’s total to 17,000.
“This is really good for the Town of Torrey and the village of Dresden, this is really big, we are very excited to bring this new technology to the town of Torrey,” said Irwin.
In addition to a lawsuit, the opposition also sent a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, urging him to deny the stormwater permit, and revoke Air and SPDES permits.
Environmental groups expressed concerns over a variety of environmental issues such as water intake and withdrawal levels from Seneca Lake, greenhouse gas emissions, danger to aquatic life, water temperature discharge levels and noise levels produced by cooling fans.
Bill Mattingly, At-Large Delegate to the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, said the 641,878 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent this facility is permitted to emit into the atmosphere annually, is a big problem.
“Whatever we put into the air, it is permanent and the associated increase in the temperature of the earth is kind of permanent too,” he said.
Recently, Bitcoin mining as an industry has seen a lot of scrutiny for the large environmental impact it presents to the world. According to the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, Bitcoin mining generates 124.60 TWh per year. For comparison, some countries don’t even generate that much energy throughout a year. Pakistan for example uses 120.56 TWh per year and Norway uses 124.13 TWh per year.
Michael McKeon, Greenidge Generation representative, said despite the concerns from environmental groups, the facility is only operating within its legal parameters that were set by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“It is a really well-run facility, it is operating well within its permits and it is adding real value to the community,” said McKeon.
McKeon believes that having this mining facility in Yates County could bring in much-needed revenue to the community through well-paying jobs and partnerships.
“We think that overall the economic impact is significant and meaningful and we are doing it in a way that is mindful of the lake,” he said.
Michael Warren Thomas, tourism expert in the Finger Lakes region said the economic impact and jobs presented by this facility are not worth the potential harm it could do to the region.
“These massive industrial operations affect the potential growth of this region for tourism,” said Thomas, “ An investor can invest in Vermont or in Maryland, they don't have to invest here.”
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, Greenidge Generation has the capability to operate at approximately 107 Megawatts. The water withdrawal permit, which was issued on 9/11/2017 authorizes the facility to withdraw 139,248,000 gallons per day from Seneca lake. SPDES permits the facility to discharge approximately 134 million gallons per day to the Keuka outlet.
Throughout the week, WENY News will be taking a deeper look into Greenidge’s proposed expansion, as well as the concerns presented by environmental groups and local businesses. Tune in nightly to WENY News at 6 through May 1st.