Mining Controversy Part 6: The Future of Industry in the Region
DRESDEN, N.Y. (WENY) -- Greenidge Generation, a bitcoin mining facility based on the edge of Seneca Lake in Dresden New York, is currently home to 7,000 bitcoin mining machines and growing.
During a recent Town of Torrey planning board meeting, Greenidge was approved to add in four buildings on the west side of its electrical generation facility. These buildings will be home to 10,000 additional bitcoin miners. The 7,000 miners that are operating at the facility now use around 20 of Greenidge's allowed 107 MWs of power.. Greenidge also announced is actively expanding its capacity at the Dresden location and other locations throughout the U.S; it hopes to have 500 MW of energy for bitcoin mining by 2025.
Michael McKeon, Greenidge Generation Representative said before Atlas Holdings purchased the defunct former coal power plant in 2014, it was not offering much to the community, but, that has changed. Greenidge repowered the plant and brought it back online in 2017 as a natural gas power plant. It later began mining Bitcoin in 2020.
“We went from a facility that was paying almost nothing a few years ago to a facility that is now paying half a million dollars in taxes and it's growing,” said McKeon.
Greenidge Generation said it mined 1,186 Bitcoin in the twelve months leading up to Feb 28th, 2021, costing the facility approximately $2,869 per bitcoin. Today, one Bitcoin is worth approximately $55,000 which means Greenidge Generation brought in $65,230,000 from Bitcoin mining.
While Greenidge Generation has sighted plans of expanding its bitcoin mining capabilities, McKeon speculated about how they were going to mitigate potential harm to the environment moving forward.
“Can we add a renewable component, we have a lot of lands so can we add for example battery storage,” said McKeon, “Right now, we are looking at solar more than other things but we are still early in those talks.”
In a letter to New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation, activist group Earth Justice and the Sierra Club stated:
“ ...in just one year, CO2eq and NOx emissions from the facility increased ten-fold. Greenidge’s emissions of CO2eq went from 28,301 tons when bitcoin data mining first began at the facility in January 2020 to 243,103 tons in December 2020…”
There are many different things the facility could do to lower its carbon footprint such as recycling heat, installing closed-cycle cooling, and using battery storage (solar).
As it stands right now, Greenidge Generation operates on a once-through cooling system, a closed-cycle cooling system would reduce water withdrawals and aquatic impacts by 95%. The trade-off is that while closed-cycle cooling is better for the environment, it is known to be less efficient.
With these Bitcoin mining machines operating 24/7, 365 days of the year, they generate a lot of heat. Every time a facility like Greenidge Generation is turned on or a car engine runs, heat is generated. The problem with wasted heat is not climate change, as it only accounts for 1 percent,but that energy being used could be recycled. According to an article from Yale Environment 360, “The global demand for energy is booming — it’s set to bump up nearly 30 percent by 2040. And every bit of waste heat recycled into energy saves some fuel — often fossil fuels — from doing the same job.”
Currently, Greenidge Generation uses natural gas to power its facility but if they were to use a battery storage system, such as solar panels, they could reduce their CO2 emissions, by obtaining energy from the sun, naturally.
But as McKeon said, Greenidge Generation is still early in those talks and the facility is not required to install any of the environmental safeguards listed above.”
What is happening here in Dresden is not unique, a similar facility made its way to Missoula, Montana and soon after it started operating, the town planning board started receiving complaints.
“Complaints were mostly focused around the noise produced by the facility,” said Diana Maneta, Missoula Sustainability Program Manager. These noise complaints sparked a deeper investigation into the facility.
“The scale of the energy consumption and potential for really substantial expansion in the county was a real concern,” said Maneta.
With the fear that more mining operations would be coming to Missoula County and would be unregulated, the county put regulations in place for any future cryptocurrency mining operations. The main regulation was that mining operations had to either purchase or develop enough new renewable energy to offset 100% of their electrical consumption.
They also required that all e-waste be disposed of through a recycler certified with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Mining operations are also required to be located in districts zoned as light or heavy industrial to make sure they do not impact residential areas.
Jennie Dixon, Community and Planning Services member for Missoula County, said their intention was not to determining operations from the county but instead to mitigate their environmental impact.
“It was not the industry that we did not want to see in Missoula-- it was more how can we manage the impacts,” said Dixon.
The facility announced on May 13th of last year that it was planning to cease operation and since the regulations have been put in place Missoula has not seen any other mining operations come to the community.
Because mining operations run all day, every day, their first priority is cheap power. Greenidge Generation is in a unique situation, it can generate its own power, due in part to it being an existing natural gas power plant. Greenidge Generation said it hopes to replicate what it is doing at its Dresden location in other undisclosed locations to reach a 500 MW capability by 2025.
Greenidge Generation is not the only bitcoin mining operation interested in the Finger Lakes region. According to EarthJustice, Beowulf Energy, which owns the Cayuga Facility in Lansing, New York has plans to convert the facility into a data center that would operate at 500 MW.
Recently Watkins Glen officials were contacted by a company looking to set up a cryptocurrency mine within the village. Just like other mining operations, the mining operation interested in Watkins Glen has noticed its relatively cheap hydroelectric power. Following this mining operations interest in Watkins Glen, Schuyler County legislators wrote a draft resolution; similar to the regulations that were put in place in Missoula County.
Even though Greenidge Generation is operating well within its permits and has been approved to expand its operation by the Town of Torrey planning board, Environmental groups are still trying to stop the operation from moving forward. In December a class action lawsuit was filed against the company and the Town of Torrey planning board to stop the expansion. The lawsuit said that the board granted permission without sufficiently studying the possible impact Bitcoin mining could have on the region and that Greenidge did not tell the community the power plant was reopening to mine Bitcoin.