Bitcoin mining plant accused of turning New York lake into a ‘hot tub’ refutes resident’s claims

Company insists ‘facility operates in full compliance with air and water permits’

Louise Hall
Tuesday 06 July 2021 16:58 BST
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A new gas-fired power plant run for the purpose of mining bitcoin has been accused of turning a lake in New York into a “hot tub”. But the company refuted the allegations of residents and climate critics.

Private equity firm Atlas Holdings is running the gas-fired plant facility near Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, NBC News reported.

The operators of the facility, Greenidge Generation LLC, are said to have increased the electrical power output at the plant in the name of mining Bitcoin, prompting protests from residents.

“The lake is so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub,” Abi Buddington, a resident of Dresden, New York who lives near the plant, told NBC News.

However, Greenidge’s local advisory group has since hit back at the complaints, saying that the broadcaster’s report is “based upon the previously discredited claims of the remaining few opponents of Greenidge”.

The advisory group insists that the initiative has “overwhelming support” from local government, civic organisations, Seneca Lake neighbors and workers that partner with them.

“The very same people cited by NBC News have been opposing Greenidge for several years, offered nothing new, and have already had their arguments repeatedly and soundly rejected by the Courts of New York and by our neighbors,” the group said in a statement.

They added: “The suggestion that Greenidge is somehow negatively impacting Seneca Lake – or is an impediment to New York’s important greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals – is just false. Any honest review of the facts makes that clear.”

Bitcoin, a digital currency, is “mined” by using high-power computers to generate new units by solving masses of mathematical equations.

Lots of energy is needed to run the machines to support their massive processing power, meaning their plants can add significantly to carbon emissions.

The Greenidge plant holds at least 8,000 computers and is looking to install more, the broadcaster said. Such computers also require massive cooling, using water from the lake.

NBC News’ report said that the plant’s current permit allows Greenidge to consume 139 million gallons of water daily while discharging 135 million gallons back into the lake.

Some local residents rallied against what they say are rising temperatures and were seen outside a Department of Environmental Conservation office in Avon, New York on Monday.

Greenidge categorically insists that claims that the harm is being caused to the lake are “false”, saying: “There is zero evidence of any harm being caused to Seneca Lake by Greenidge.”

“Greenidge publishes its water discharge temperatures regularly,” the company said, adding that there had been “just a 6.8 degrees average difference between intake and outflow” between March and April in 2021.

Critics argue that the plant undermines the state’s fossil fuel commitments and will also have a knock-on impact on climate change.

“New York had established a goal in law of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030,” Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator told NBC News.

She added: “The state will not reach that goal if the Greenidge Bitcoin mining operation continues.”

The company’s local advisory group again disputed such claims, saying: “There is zero threat to the goals of the State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) from Greenidge’s current or future operation.”

Jeff Kirt, the chief executive officer of Greenidge, said the plant is operating within its federal and state environmental permits told and told NBC News “the environmental impact of the plant has never been better than it is right now”.

Greenidge began using the plant for Bitcoin mining and hiked its output in 2019 and is only intending to expand further, the report claims.

Despite being natural gas-fired, they are still emitting damaging greenhouse gases, Clark Williams-Derry, energy analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis told NBC News.

By the end of 2020, the plant’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions sat at 243,103 tons, an increase from 28,301 tons in January, NBC News said, citing open record documents obtained by environmental non-profit Earth Justice.

The company says that Greenidge resumed operations as a clean source of power for New York in 2017, saying it is “the first and only bitcoin miner of scale in the United States that is already 100 per cent carbon neutral.”

The group asserts that when the plant is running at full capacity it accounts for less than one per cent of the total statewide greenhouse gas target for the State in 2030.

A spokesperson told NBC News that “limits already protect the lake’s fishery and the public health, and they have been clearly validated as not concerning”.

Greenidge has said that its operations would soon be carbon neutral in the last month through the use of carbon offsets. Its advisory board insists “the facility operates in full compliance with its air and water permits”.

Mandy DeRoche, deputy managing attorney in the coal programme at Earth Justice, says they are asking the Department of Environmental Conservation to take a “hard look” at Greenidge’s air permit, which is up for renewal in September.

"We’ve asked the Department of Environmental Conservation to take a hard look and think about it as a new permit not just a renewal,” she told the broadcaster.

This article has been updated to include a response from Greenidge Generation LLC.

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