Mining Controversy Part 5: Tourism in the Finger Lakes Region
DRESDEN, N.Y. (WENY) -- With over 100 wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries scattered throughout the Finger Lakes region, the tourism industry draws in millions of visitors and billions of dollars in revenue for the economy.
Environmental groups worry that Greenidge Generation, a bitcoin mining operation and natural gas power plant located on Seneca lake, could not only deter visitors but also deter businesses from investing in the region in the future. According to Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, tourism in the Finger Lakes region is a $3 billion industry that supported 59,326 jobs in 2018.
Greenidge Generation on the other hand employs about 40 workers. Greenidge CEO Dale Irwin said the facility’s expansion should bring in 12 new jobs to Dresden. Michael McKeon, Greenidge Generation representative said the facility will never bring in as many jobs as the tourism industry, but he is very proud of the good-paying jobs that are offered.
“We are never going to have 300 jobs, that is not the vision of the place, we are going to have good, solid jobs and we are going to continue to add incrementally as we go forward, “ said McKeon.
Dr. Colin Read, professor of finance and economics at SUNY Plattsburgh, was the mayor in Plattsburgh, New York when Bitcoin mining operations flooded his town in search of cheap electricity.
“They might need to employ one to two people per shift to like I say keep the places secure and keep the fuses from blowing,” said Read.
Dr. Read said he is unaware how much the Greenidge Generation employees are getting paid but he did say, as far as he knows, these are entry-level jobs.
“If this was a data center there would be a little more value-added, you usually have to have some computer scientists around at a data center but not for a Bitcoin operation, no, it’s blue-collar,” said Read, “When I was the mayor I would expect to generate 100 jobs for one MW of power; they generate one or two jobs per MW of power.”
Vinny Aliperti, Owner of Billsboro Winery, moved to the region from Long Island, to start his career in winemaking, and has made the Finger Lakes his home.
“This even 20 years ago was by far the most established viticultural area in the Northeast and still is,” said Aliperti, “ It is the whole package, it is this natural beauty but also this very welcoming environment.”
Aliperti said his winery gets 80% of its income from foot traffic. He worries that industries like Greenidge Generation will deter visitors, ultimately impacting tourism in the region.
“Whether it is noise, thermal pollution, or air pollution, these are concerns that I think everyone in the area is concerned about,” said Aliperti.
Bitcoin miners are known to be noisy machines; with the facility having the capability to run 24/7, 365 days a year, Read said the noise from the facility will carry across the lake on warm summer days and nights.
“Large fans on the buildings that are sucking that heat out and pushing it into the environment that are disrupting people's summer enjoyment on a summer BBQ,” said Read.
Dale Irwin, Greenidge Generation CEO, said the facility has and continues to mitigate noise in a variety of ways.
“The noise is mitigated by several different mitigation techniques, first of all inside the building, the original building was built in 1937, with three-foot brick walls,” said Irwin. “ Not a lot of noise gets through the brick walls,” he said.
Irwin also explained, they have installed noise baffling panels and have conducted noise studies around the facility. Driving in front of the facility, noise levels are relatively low but if you listen closely you can hear a faint humming noise. While those noise levels are low now, they do have the ability to increase as the facility adds more Bitcoin mining machines.
With the Town of Torrey planning Board’s most recent decision to allow Greenidge Generation to add four new buildings to the west side of its electrical generation facility, they plan to add 10,000 more bitcoin mining machines. The facility is currently only using around 20 of its 107 MW to operate the 7,000 bitcoin miners, as it gets closer to operating at its full capacity noise levels could increase.
During the Town of Torrey Planning Board Meeting on April 20th, the planning board decided to require Greenidge Generation to have more noise studies completed. The studies that were done were performed by a sound engineer hired by Greenidge Generation, the planning board voted to have more intensive noise studies done through a sound engineer chosen by the town. The facility is currently allowed to emit noise at 72 decibels in the daytime and 50 decibels at night. If the noise was to go over the required limits, it would be up to the town of Torrey to step in.
Environmental groups also expressed concern over Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), which according to data provided by Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association have been on the rise over recent years.
HABs are dangerous for both pets and humans to swim in and drink. They are also very unpleasant to look at, which is why environmental groups have expressed concern over new industries inhabiting the lakeside.
David Richardson, a biology professor at SUNY New Paltz, said HABs are nothing new and they have been around since the 1800s, most commonly occurring during windy summer weather.
“They are not something new, but I think what is new is a lot of the algal blooms that are occurring in what we previously thought were really nice clear water,” said Richardson.
During the winter, the cyanobacteria that cause algal blooms settle at the bottom of the lake and as the ice begins to melt and the wind picks up, this bacteria rises to the surface in large quantities; ultimately forming HABs.
Richardson said there are many factors that contribute to algal blooms, including a warming climate, runoff from residential homes, wineries, farms, and power plants that are located close to the edge of the lake.
“There are a lot of different factors in terms of management practices, whether it is agricultural practices that affect how much the individuals will influence the lake,” said Richardson.
Richardson also said warmer water can help fuel algal blooms but Seneca Lake is so big, that if water were to be discharged into Seneca Lake at 108F, as allowed under NYS DEC permits, it would have very little impact on the lake as a whole.
“If it's four degrees celsius (38F) in the water and you are raising it to I think the numbers are 108F then under the ice in the winter that's going to cool off real quick,” said Richardson.
Richardson did say that, while this may not have an impact on the entire lake, aquatic life could be impacted where the water is being discharged into the lake.
Michael Warren Thomas, the voice of the Finger Lakes, believes even without the environmental impacts, the facility itself could have a negative impact on the tourism industry in the region.
“It is not as much that tomorrow there will be fewer tourists because they are bitmining there, but the long term effect on the region is going to be substantial if this goes ahead,” said Thomas, “ Expanding that facility, upgrading what used to burn coal, is not something our region needs, the bitcoin miners need it but we don't need it.”
This is the fifth of six installments looking into Greenidge Generations Bitcoin mining operation on Seneca Lake. Tune in to WENY News tomorrow at 6 PM as we take a look at the future of the industry in the region.