A controversial bitcoin mining operation on the largest of central New York's Finger Lakes does not meet the requirements of state climate laws, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation ruled Thursday, denying an air permit request the entity’s owner, Greenidge Generation LLC., made in March 2021.
Renewing the air permit for the Greenidge facility on Seneca Lake “would be inconsistent with or would interfere with the attainment of statewide greenhouse gas emission limits,” the Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, said in its ruling. It added that the company, which burns natural gas at its plant, has “failed to demonstrate that the continued operation of the facility is justified notwithstanding this inconsistency, as it has not provided any electric system reliability or other ongoing need for the facility.”
Greenhouse gas emissions from the plant have increased “dramatically” since a previous permit was issued to Greenidge in 2016 and after the 2019 enactment of New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, DEC said.
Local residents and environmental groups lauded the decision. Greenidge said it would continue to operate the plant under its current permit while it challenged the DEC ruling.
“We believe there is no credible legal basis whatsoever for a denial of this application because there is no actual threat to the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act from our renewed permit,” the company said in a statement on its website. “This is a standard air permit renewal governing emissions levels for a facility operating in full compliance with its existing permit today.”
The company added that its "facility represents a remarkably insignificant 0.2% of New York’s target GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions level for 2030" and that its emissions are down by 70% compared to the reference date of 1990 under the law.
Greenidge took over a mothballed power plant on the shores of Seneca Lake in 2014 and requested permits to operate it as a so-called peaker plant, providing electricity to the grid in times of heavy use. While the operation initially supplied most of its power to the grid, DEC found its main purpose has become bitcoin mining, a process in which large computers work to verify transactions in the currency that occur on the internet and earn rewards of bitcoin when they do. The math required to verify the transactions and earn bitcoins gets more complex over time, demanding more and more computer power.
Bitcoin miners’ annual electricity use around the world is so prodigious that it roughly equals the consumption of Pakistan, according to the University of Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.
Concerns about electricity use have made bitcoin mining a target for climate change activists, and Greenidge has sparked considerable controversy among residents and business owners in the region. DEC said it reviewed about 4,000 public comments on the application from individuals or organizations.
When Greenidge applied for its initial permitting, DEC noted, it did not indicate “that it intended the facility to primarily serve increasing energy load from on-site cryptocurrency mining operations, rather than provide energy primarily to the electricity grid.”
Shares in Greenidge Generation fell by 7% on the ruling Thursday, to around $2.50. As the price of bitcoin has tumbled in recent months, so, too, has Greenidge’s stock, which is down from about $43 in September. Bitcoin itself has lost over 70 percent of its value from its peak in November.
Yvonne Taylor, the vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian, an environmental advocacy group that has battled the Greenidge facility for over five years, hailed DEC’s decision.
“We are so proud to be part of a community that stands together to protect our clean air and clean water and thriving agriculture and tourism industries in the Finger Lakes,” Taylor said. “We’ve been getting phone calls and texts and emails from members of the Finger Lakes region, all completely elated that the decision has been made.”