[Update 8/7/21, 8:30AM] Greenidge’s CEO advisory firm got hold of us overnight armed with average water temperature figures for Seneca Lake, pointing out that the facility restarted operations in 2017 and saying that “…there has been no impact on the lake.” The firm’s representative also claimed that the woman originally interviewed by NBC has claimed on social media that the news outlet reported incorrectly. We’re unable to confirm that Abi Buddington, the woman concerned, has made that statement. She does seem to be awfully concerned with climate change in general, though.
[Original story] In May this year we heard that a private equity firm bought, converted and reopened Greenidge, an old coal-fired power planet in New York State. Buying the plant and converting it from coal to natural gas wouldn’t be noteworthy usually but the firm, Atlas Holdings, has converted the plant’s output to mine for bitcoin.
Around the same time we heard that Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin as payment for its vehicles, a move that sparked the current decline in the cryptocurrency’s value. The reason given for this was the environmental impact of crypto mining. We’re sure you can see where this is going.
Greenidge isn’t particularly green
The area surrounding the newly-reopened bitcoin power plant has already seen a localised environmental change, notable in the region of Seneca Lake. The lake is the largest of the glacier-fed Finger Lakes in the States but it seems it’s not as cold as it should be. Residents are complaining that the lake is “… so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub.”
The change in temperature, which has been noted by residents but which remains unofficial until a study is concluded in 2023, is being blamed on Greenidge dumping heated water into the lake itself. The power plant has a license to dump over 500,000 litres of heated water a day into the Keuka Lake Outlet, which connects to Seneca. The water temperature may be up to 42° in summer and up to 30° in winter. Their temperature output is reportedly lower but that much water seems to be having an effect on the lake — and on the trout that live in it.
See, rainbow trout spawn in the Keuka Lake Outlet but the fish are happiest when water temperatures are just 12°. Once it rises over 21°, rainbow trout stop growing and the more stressed of them tend to die off. So the outlet isn’t an ideal environment to dump hot water generated for the purpose mining bitcoin for a single investment company.
Greenidge currently powers thousands of bitcoin mining rigs, with the plan being to eventually turn most of the plant’s output — a full 85mW — to mining for bitcoin. Atlas Holdings has plans to expand its mining output to 500mW, though it claims that at least some of that will be “zero-carbon” power. That still does little to alleviate concerns that Greenidge is having an environmental impact that benefits basically nobody except Atlas Holdings, however.