This Finger Lakes power plant wants to add a Bitcoin mine

With water being traded on the stock exchange, the Finger Lakes continues to fight to protect the largest water body solely within the state’s borders — Seneca Lake — from a savvy new Bitcoin deal that has far-reaching implications across New York.

Greenidge, a 1950s-era relic of New York’s past, is operating at less than half the efficiency of more modern natural gas power plants, and is a direct assault on the intent of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nationally leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act — to reduce greenhouse gas levels 85 percent by 2050.

This previously mothballed coal-burning plant along Seneca’s western shores was originally transitioned to burn natural gas and serve as a “peaker plant” for public use when additional energy was needed. Since getting approval, however, Atlas Holdings Inc. has applied to expand its energy production — not for public consumption but to fuel its privately owned Bitcoin mining operation. If approved, the facility would generate enough energy to power 93,000 homes, emit more greenhouse gases that it has in the past, and completely evade Cuomo’s CLCPA requirements by operating “behind the meter.”

What damages our fragile ecosystem in the Finger Lakes will also damage our agritourism industry. Discharging water at up to 108 degrees into the Keuka Outlet, which empties directly into Seneca Lake, this project would stress trout and other cold-water fish and increase risks to annual spawning.

The hot water will also increase incidences of harmful algal blooms, exacerbating an already-troublesome issue for the Finger Lakes. Furthermore, the system is not using protective measures to prevent fish, eggs, and other aquatic life from being killed at its water intake location.

In addition to harming Seneca Lake, a drinking water source for over 100,000 people, this facility will increase noise levels, not only in the surrounding area but also across the lake, since noise travels easily across open water. Traditional data centers prohibit the use of Bitcoin servers because they make so much noise, use too much energy and generate too much heat.

Greenidge received $2 million in state regional economic development funds in 2015 to build the gas pipeline extension to bring gas to the plant. Now Greenidge is saddling our region with all of the environmental and economic risk and little to no reward. Bill Harris, former founding CEO of PayPal, Intuit and Personal Capital, has called Bitcoin and Bitcoin mining “a colossal pump-and-dump scheme, the likes of which the world has never seen.”

Currently, 60 to 70 percent of all Bitcoin mining is done in China, but the Chinese are considering banning the activity as a waste of resources. Atlas is bringing this wasteful activity to Seneca Lake, and using an inefficient, old plant to do it. Yes, Atlas has devised a clever business idea, but it is bad for the Finger Lakes, it is bad for New York and, if left unchecked, it could have implications for similar facilities owned in partnership with Atlas along the Hudson River and near Albany. Do we want to see more Bitcoin mining operations taking advantage of this too-new-to-be-regulated maneuver along other New York waterways?

It makes no sense to embrace a wasteful industry that other countries are turning away, and it is reckless to allow a 70-year-old fossil fuel-burning facility to power a Bitcoin mining operation.

The governor should direct the Department of Environmental Conservation to deny a stormwater permit for the plant and immediately revoke the existing permits for this facility’s power generation and use.

Yvonne Taylor is vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian and a co-founder and vice president of Gas Free Seneca.