NY denies permit for Bitcoin-mining power plant near Seneca Lake

New York state regulators today denied an air permit to a natural gas-fueled power plant near Seneca Lake that used most of the electricity it generated to mine the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

The Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision was celebrated as a huge victory by opponents who cited the plant’s impact on climate change and the local environment.

“This is an incredible, precedent-setting moment for everyone who has fought side by side with the Finger Lakes community,’’ said Yvonne Taylor of the group Seneca Lake Guardian in a news release. “Governor Hochul and the DEC stood with science and the people, and sent a message to outside speculators: New York’s former fossil fuel-burning plants are not yours to re-open as gas-guzzling Bitcoin mining cancers on our communities.”

New York has become one of the leading states in the United States for energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining, fueling intense interest in the long-awaited decision on Greenidge Generation’s application for an air permit. The 107-megawatt power plant is in Dresden, Yates County.

DEC officials said they denied the permit because the plant’s operation would be “inconsistent with the statewide greenhouse gas emission limits” established in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The law commits the state to reducing emissions 85% by 2050.

The owners of the plant have one month to appeal the DEC decision and can continue operating during that time. Greenidge Generation Holdings Inc. has indicated they intend to appeal. The company issued a statement calling the DEC decision “arbitrary and capricious.”

The Greenidge power plant opened decades ago and initially burned coal. The coal-fired plant closed in 2011. Three years later, the plant was revived and switched its primary fuel to natural gas. The DEC issued a renewed air permit in 2016 on the understanding that the plant would sell power into the grid, according to the DEC’s letter denying the current application.

Later, it became clear that most of the power was being used on site for Bitcoin mining, DEC officials said.

Greenidge’s application for a new Title V air permit in 2021 projected that the facility’s operation would result in more than 1 million short tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, more than six times the emissions before the power plant shifted to cryptocurrency mining, the DEC said. At a time when the state is trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that was a problem, the regulators said.

In a statement today, company officials complained that they had offered to reduce emissions 40% by 2025 as a condition of a new air permit. DEC officials did not respond, the company said.

Bitcoin mining centers like the one in Yates County consume vast amounts of electricity. Worldwide, Bitcoin mining consumes as much electricity as the entire country of Argentina, population 45 million, according to Lee McKnight, an information studies professor at Syracuse University. A Princeton University professor told Congress in 2018 that bitcoin mining accounted for about 1% of the entire globe’s electrical consumption, or about the same as all of New York state.

To earn Bitcoins you need as much computer processing power as possible, and that means you need lots of electricity to run those processers. The cheaper the power, the more computers you can run and the better your odds of getting a Bitcoin.

Do you have a news tip or a story idea? Contact reporter Tim Knauss: email | Twitter | | 315-470-3023.

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