Fossil fuel power plant that mines Bitcoin fights to stay open

Fossil fuel power plant that mines Bitcoin fights to stay open

Image: Bloomberg/Contributor via Getty Images

A natural gas-fired power plant connected to a Bitcoin mine in Dresden, New York, is fighting to green its image as it battles for renewed permits from the state.

The Greenidge Power Plant has become the center of a fierce debate over Bitcoin mining in New York State and how the industry fits into the state’s climate goals. Decommissioned as a coal-fired power plant in 2011, Greenidge was reopened in 2017 after being purchased by Atlas Holdings and converted into a natural gas plant, spinning Bitcoin mining from 2019. Today it’s one of the largest Bitcoin mining facilities in the United States., race 17,000 platforms.

greenidge is bragging as “carbon neutral,” claiming to offset emissions from burning fossil fuels to generate bitcoins with “trusted and verified” credits and systems that he claims are more efficient than the network standard. But that’s not enough for many environmental opponentsincluding Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who argue that the environmental footprint of Bitcoin mining outweighs any justification for its existence, especially when it uses fossil fuels directly.

“Given the extraordinarily high energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining, mining operations at Greenidge and other mills raise concerns about their impacts on the global environment, on local ecosystems and consumer electricity costs,” Warren wrote in a letter to the CEO of the plantJeffrey Kirt, last December.

Despite the purchase of offsets, the plant’s emissions increased “nearly tenfold from 2019 to 2020,” Warren’s letter claims, citing data from the New State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). York obtained by the Committee for the Preservation of the Finger Lakes, which opposes the Greenidge plant. mining. In 2020, those emissions were comparable to those of 50,000 cars, the letter says. At the time, Greenidge told Bloomberg that the operation “meets all New York National Environmental Standards”.

Even so, the plant faces an “uphill battle” over its permits, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told the Binghamton, New York-based television station. WSKG on Monday, noting that it still had “significant concerns” about the environmental impact of its operations.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is currently evaluating whether to approve or deny the plant’s application to renew its five-year permits, including one for quality air that has come under intense scrutiny in recent months. In September 2021, the DEC filed the permit for public comment before holding a number of public hearings on the plant. greenidge submitted a proposal with greenhouse gas mitigation efforts on March 25. Its permits had to be approved by March 31; this deadline has been pushed back to June 30 to give the regulator more time to review its proposal. The DEC has yet to issue a formal call until it sees tangible signs that Greendige is working to reduce its carbon footprint.

“DEC has informed the applicant, Greenidge Generation, LLC, of ​​the need for additional greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation measures to meet the requirements of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” a warning on the DEC website bed. “On March 25, the applicant, Greenidge Generation, LLC, proposed GHG mitigation measures for the facility as part of the current Title V and Title IV permit renewal process. DEC has not made a decision regarding the sufficiency of the proposed GHG mitigation measures to meet these requirements.

“DEC subjects each request to all applicable federal and state standards to ensure that the agency’s decision protects public health and the environment and upholds environmental justice and equity,” the agency told Motherboard in a statement. E-mail.

The regulator is “still reviewing additional information submitted by” Greenidge, as well as some 4,000 public comments it received about the plant, the notice continues.

The agency’s hesitation primarily boils down to a landmark climate law passed in 2019 that, at the time, positioned New York State as a national leader in environmental policy. The Climate and Community Leadership Protection Act (CLCPA) established a set of legally binding environmental goals requiring 70% of New York’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide by 85% by 2050. Now, three years after the law was passed, proponents say the the state is far from achieving these goals. Allowing the proliferation of Bitcoin mining tied to fossil fuel power plants would further alienate New York from them, critics say, as it extends a lifeline to fossil fuel infrastructure that would otherwise have no reason to exist. .

Greenidge pointed out in his Proposal of March 25 to the DEC that it is “ready to do more than the legal minimum – and more than it has already done – to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions in support of the Department’s efforts to achieve the objectives of the CLCPA. It has proposed to reduce its overall emissions volumes by 40% from what is currently allowed by the end of 2025, five years ahead of the CLCPA’s 2030 renewable energy targets. The plant pointed out that its own emissions accounted for far less than one percent of the state’s overall emissions and electricity volumes.

“New York State should lead, embrace the cryptocurrency industry and all the opportunities we have shown it can create for New Yorkers while complying with the most aggressive environmental standards and laws in the world. countries on climate change,” Greenidge said in a statement emailed to Motherboard. “We look forward to finalizing a strong and renewed program [air] permits to allow Greenidge to continue its environmental and economic stewardship in New York.

In addition to regulators’ concerns, local critics like Guardian of Seneca Lake and Finger Lakes Preservation Committee oppose not only Greenidge’s air emissions, but also its potential impact on water quality around the plant. Last year, a claim that the facility has transformed the glacial lake it sits next to into a “hot tub” went viral. This claim was not true, but shows the level of angst Greenidge fomented in the area, and may have a kernel of truth. The establishment intake pipe draws fresh water from nearby Seneca Lake to supply the facility with steam and cool it, pumping it out at an allowable maximum of 108 degrees. Greenridge maintains that in 2021 it has never reached this temperature and that the average discharge temperature is around 32 degrees below the allowed level.

That this type of configuration can endanger local wildlife is a well-documented phenomenon. Intake pipes suck in water and wildlife indiscriminately, Grist reported in 2021. This can lead to the mutilation of fish and wildlife by facilities, which the Sierra Club once described as “giant fish mixers.”

Many of these environmental groups hope to see the state issue a moratorium on issuance of permits for Bitcoin mining as a whole: Citing the decision of the State of ban fracking in 2014, defenders say the state has a well-defined legislative path to stop bitcoin mining. More recently, this chorus of voices has come to include New York’s public advocate and gubernatorial candidate Jumane Williams, which called on Governor Kathy Hochul to impose a moratorium on proof-of-work mining. The technique for ensuring network security used by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies involves brute-force calculation of numbers in a global lottery to add a block of valid transactions to the chain. For Bitcoiners, it’s an essential part of the system, but for critics, it’s a lot of wasted energy.

“Bitcoin mines that use a ‘proof of work’ process are known to cause significant damage to the environment and local economy, which is why many countries have completely banned this practice,” Williams told local broadcaster Spectrum News in February. “Unfortunately, New York has fallen behind, allowing nearly 20% of the nation’s mines to operate in our state without any oversight or regulation. We need to ask questions now rather than deal with the fallout later.”

A invoice that would put a two-year moratorium on all proof-of-work mining in New York City has caught the eye in the state legislature – that would end this The New York Times called a “bitcoin boomin upstate and west New York. Bitcoin mining does not require fossil fuels, and New York State is home to a large amount of hydroelectric power and closed industrial factories, making it a first producer of new bitcoins nationwide as businesses seek cheap energy.

Still, many environmentalists fear the Greenidge case is part of a larger wave of once mothballed power plants coming back to life via Bitcoin. There are about 30 mothballed coal and oil plants across the state that could serve as fodder for mining operations like this, Buffalo News reported last July.

Greenidge, for its part, remains firm that it has taken steps to meet the requirements the DEC has set out for its permit approvals.

“We are ready to do much more than we have already done to further reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions and help the state meet its statewide CLCPA goals,” the plant said in a statement March 31. “Despite noise from our few remaining opponents, this is a standard air permit renewal governing permitted emission levels, not a cryptocurrency permit. Their efforts to mislead the public and to bring our team members and IBEW [union] partners to lose their jobs without any basis in law or in fact – were shamed.

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained incorrect figures on Greenidge’s size and mining timeline. The story has also been updated with additional information from Greenidge about the temperature of its intake pipe.