May 17, 2022

Summer on Seneca Lake, the largest of upstate New York’s Finger Lakes, is typically spent boating, fishing, swimming, and wine tasting. However, this season brings a new activity for many residents of this rural region: protesting a gas-fired power station they claim is contaminating the air and warming the lake.

“The lake is so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub,” said Abi Buddington of Dresden, whose house is near the plant.

Greenidge Generation LLC owns and operates the facility on the shores of Seneca Lake. They have quadrupled the electrical output of the gas-fired plant in the last year and a half and are using a large portion of the fossil-fuel energy not to power the lights in surrounding towns but to conduct energy-intensive bitcoin “mining.”

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency – a sort of digital money that lacks physical bills or coins. To earn it through “mining,” massive high-performance computers are required. Computers make modest bitcoin incentives for validating bitcoin transactions that occur on the internet around the world. The arithmetic necessary to validate transactions and earn bitcoins becomes increasingly sophisticated over time, necessitating an increasing amount of computer power. At Greenidge, the computers run 24 hours a day, consuming an incredible amount of energy and emitting real pollutants in the process of collecting virtual wealth.

According to a University of Cambridge calculation, global bitcoin miners consume more energy in a year than in Chile. When fossil fuel is used to generate energy, the process can drastically increase carbon emissions. The Greenidge plant already houses at least 8,000 computers and is considering adding more, which means it will need to burn even more natural gas to generate additional energy.

Greenidge began mining bitcoin with the machine in 2019 and boosted its output. It continues to supply extra energy to the local grid, but a large portion of the power it generates is currently used for bitcoin mining. And, according to corporate filings, it has expansion plans for Greenidge and other locations. Greenidge announced last week the establishment of a new bitcoin mining operation at an Atlas-owned disused printing plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Greenidge stated in March that its 19 megawatt Bitcoin mining capacity would increase to 45 megawatts by December and might reach 500 megawatts by 2025 as it duplicates its technology overseas. In the United States, larger gas-fired power stations range in capacity from 1,500 to 3,500 megawatts.