Mining Controversy Part 4: Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act
DRESDEN, N.Y. (WENY) -- Bitcoin Mining has just recently started to become popular in North America, and the Finger Lakes region could be the next hot spot because of its cool climates, rugged terrain and abundance of water for hydroelectric power.
China is currently home to 80% of the global trade in cryptocurrencies, but recently China has been issuing advisories and taking steps to deter the use of cryptocurrency in the country because of its high energy usage. Now, many mining operations, like Greenidge Generation are making their way to North America. According to an article by Bitcoin Magazine from 2019, 13 major bitcoin mining operations are cited in the United States.
When it comes to New York State, environmental groups here in the Finger Lake region are speaking out against Greenidge Generation, claiming that the facility is counter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires 20% of New York State’s energy to come from renewables by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.
Greenidge Generation converted the facility from a powered-down coal-fired plant to run mainly off of natural gas in 2017. Professor Robert Howarth, biogeochemistry and ecosystem scientist at Cornell University, believes this does not change the impact the facility is having on the environment.
“Increasing and using natural gas just to provide bitcoin as a cryptocurrency is totally counter to that law,” said Howarth. “ As a company, they are massive contributors to global warming at a time when global warming is a serious thing.”
Natural gas consists of 90% to 95% methane. Howarth estimates that up to 4% of the natural gas that Greenidge Generation uses will be emitted into the atmosphere, unburned.
“Because methane is such a powerful gas, it is more than 100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide,” said Howarth, “ When you include the methane, natural gas is a worse climate fuel than coal.”
According to Greenidge’s current air permits, it is allowed to emit annual emissions of up to 641,878 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, operate at 107MW of power and will be getting natural gas from Pennsylvania, via pipeline.
In a response to WENY News, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said it understands Bitcoin mining is particularly taxing on the environment, and that it will be making sure Greenidge’s facility aligns with the CLCPA.
“DEC will ensure a comprehensive and transparent review of its proposed air permit renewals with a particular focus on the potential climate change impacts and consistency with the nation-leading emissions limits established in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” the agency said.
The DEC also stated that they understand this facility has the potential to cause harm outside of New York's borders and because of that, they will be paying close attention to its emissions.
“As the greenhouse gas emissions associated with this type of facility may be precedential and have broader implications beyond New York’s borders, DEC will consult the U.S. EPA, the Climate Action Council and others…”
Michael McKeon, Greenidge Generation representative, said the plant is doing everything it can to operate within its permits while being mindful of the lake.
“We think we have the tightest regulations of any plant in the state because we are one of the last ones to be permitted in the state, and as a result, we have the most up-to-date regulations that are possible,” said McKeon.
According to the University of Cambridge’s bitcoin electricity consumption index, Bitcoin miners are expected to consume roughly 130 Terawatt-hours of energy, which is equal to almost 0.6% of global electricity consumption. As stated in previous articles, this amount of energy consumption is equal to smaller countries such as Sweden and Ukraine.
“The whole Bitcoin operation globally, it is a massive consumer of energy, it is a massive producer of fossil fuel emissions,” said Howarth.
There are things the facility could do to lower its carbon footprint, such as investing in closed-cycle cooling, battery storage, and recycling its heat.
“Can we add a renewable component to the facility? We have got a lot of land, so can we add for example battery storage,” explained McKeon.
This is the fourth installment of Mining Controversy: The Bitcoin Battle, tune in to WENY news this Friday as we discuss the effect this industry could have on tourism in the region.