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A Bitcoin mining operation in the Finger Lakes runs up against New York's climate law

In a press release on Greenidge’s website, the company stated that the average daily temperature of discharge water between March 1 through April 17, 2021 was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit with just an average difference between intake and outflow of nearly 7 degrees. But that temperature difference could influence the health of underwater species, said Gregory Boyer, professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Those impacts can intensify if the plant’s backer, Atlas Holdings LLC eventually increases the plant’s operation to maximum capacity. It’s currently running at less than half its potential.

At top capacity, the air pollution would be very significant according to calculations from Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University civil engineering professor who prepared an analysis for local environmental group, Seneca Lake Guardian. He estimated 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and methane would be released into the air as a result.

“That 1 million metric tons coming out of the Greenidge plant when it’s operating at full capacity is about two-thirds of all the emissions coming out of an entire county of 104,000 people,” Ingraffea said, comparing it to neighboring Tompkins County where he resides.

By the company’s own admission, Ingraffea’s calculations are very close to their own. In a press release July 2021, Greenidge Generation stated that running at full capacity for 24 hours every day of the year, it produces approximately 0.37% of New York’s total statewide greenhouse gas target for 2030. The math comes out to be close to 1 million metric tons. Two months later, the company released another statement revising the emissions estimate downward to 0.23%.

“It is preposterous to suggest that a facility representing only about 0.2% of the state’s emissions target for 2030 is somehow a threat to the state’s long-term climate goals,” wrote Dale Irwin, president of Greenidge Generation and native of the region, via email. “Yet our critics can’t point to a single piece of data to support their claims.”

That is only the beginning, Ingraffea fears. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies saw a huge spike in value last year, before declining and rebounding in 2022. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he wants New York to be “the center of cryptocurrency” and touted that he would convert his first paychecks as mayor into bitcoin, earlier this year. One successful and profitable reopening of a defunct fossil fuel plant could lead to more coming back online. There are five non-operative plants in upstate New York that Ingraffea is concerned may reopen to power bitcoin mining.

Those defunct plants could create a total of 1,800 megawatts that Ingraffea estimates could add an additional 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the air. By 2030, New York is capping its total greenhouse gas emission at about 250 million metric tons, so combined, these plants could account for 8% of the environmental target the state has set for itself.

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