New York City, NY

Finger Lakes Bitcoin Mining Operation Divides Citizens

Synthia Stark
Photo by David McBee from Pexels

On Seneca Lake, the biggest of all Finger Lakes in upstate New York, is often seen by most as being associated with wine tasting, swimming, fishing, and boating.

Curiously, there's also a gas-fired power plant that upholds a massive Bitcoin mining operation. If you're unfamiliar with this term, this video explains it in great detail (but in simple terms):

This Bitcoin mining operation has divided some residents, given the possible energy-intensive and environmental toll involved. Despite this, it also has presented some economic benefits to the area as well.

Fears From Some Locals

The plant, located on the shores of Seneca Lake, has generated quite a few protestors. Some locals have taken to expressing their concerns, fearful that the plant is polluting the air and harming the lake.

Reportedly, some residents worry that the lake is getting really warm due to the plant, kind of like a hot tub. However, the operator of the plant, Greenidge Generation, does not agree with these fears. In fact, Greenidge reports that the plant is not causing a major impact on the local environment.

The CEO of Greenidge is Dale Irwin. According to Dale:

'''...the claim that Greenidge’s fully permitted operation would have any impact on the quality and viability of Seneca Lake is beyond absurd.”

Water Quality Research

If we take a look at the Seneca Lake Water Quality Buoy from the Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the water temperatures of the lake have pretty much remained stable. Curiously, in 2021 the lake's summer temperature was a little bit higher than the average generated between 2007 to 2021, but not by much.

The Protest Last Month

Abi Buddington, a resident of Dresden, New York, also serves as the secretary on the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes. The Committee had helped organize a protest against the plant at a nearby Department of Environmental Conservation office in Avon, New York, last month.

The same protest was also organized by the Seneca Lake Guardian, a nonprofit conservation advocacy group.

Bitcoin Mining is Energy-Intensive

It seems that bitcoin mining is in huge demand these days. It is a very energy-intensive process since you are producing new bitcoins while processing bitcoin transactions all at once. It is one of the biggest points of criticism against cryptocurrency.

You can watch more information about Bitcoin energy consumption here:

A Brief History of the Greenidge Plant

The facility that operates on the shores of Seneca Lake is owned by private investment and equity firm Atlas Holdings and operated by Greenidge. Atlas Holdings bought the 80-year-old coal-fired plant in 2014 after it closed in 2011. They then converted the place to a natural gas facility.

Since 2017, it had resumed operations and generated energy for the grid, but only at times of high demand.

In 2019, Greenidge began to power Bitcoin mining efforts. With the prices of Bitcoin soaring, the profit has definitely surged too, allowing the plant to generate more output.

Reportedly, the company was able to mine 1186 bitcoins at a cost of roughly $2,869 each. While the currency is digital and volatile, it trades at a very high value, such as in or around $34,000 per coin. This number may change as the days go by.

Here's a video that talks more about the plant:

Worries From Environmentalists

The soaring demands of Bitcoin have worried some environmentalists and people. Even so, Greenridge has assured that the plant is reportedly not providing a major impact on the environment.

After the protest last month, the company did a study where they emphasized the job creation aspect. Currently, the plant has 31 employees, and they plan to have 10 more full-time employees over the course of next year.

New York State Green Gas Emissions Goals

Meanwhile, New York State has plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. There are fears that the state may not reach this goal due to Bitcoin mining operations (in general). For example, EarthJustice, a nonprofit environmental advocate, reports that emissions have skyrocketed from Bitcoin mining.

The Good and The Bad

Some people are worried that other previously closed plants might be also reopened for more Bitcoin mining. For example, Greenidge is planning to open a new Bitcoin mining operation in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at a retired printing plant owned by Atlas Holdings.

On the other hand, others may support these efforts. For example, the NBC reported that the Dresden Fire Department reportedly accepted a $25,000 donation from the company, while the local school district reportedly accepted a $20,000 donation also.

One could argue that there are some benefits for the local economy, where many people have been struggling financially due to ongoing world events.

This video presents a more rosy and optimistic image on cryptocurrency:

Whether or not this situation is or is not helping you environmentally or financially, I'm sure many people in or around New York State (or even the Seneca Lake area) might have passionate feelings surrounding this situation. Hopefully, a compromise can make citizens and business leaders equally happy.

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