ENDWELL, NY (WSKG) – Amid environmental concerns in several Finger Lakes communities, Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-125) said she would introduce legislation this week to temporarily ban mining operations of cryptocurrency.
Plan to legislate
Last month, the Town of Torrey, Yates County Planning Council, gave the green light at Generation Greenidge to expand its Bitcoin mining operation at its facilities along the western shore of Seneca Lake, much to the chagrin of activists who have protested against the move.
“The first course of action I envision, and which I am currently actively working on, is to create a moratorium while we assess the full environmental impact of mining facilities in New York State ”. Kelles told WSKG.
She said all options were on the table in terms of details of the legislation, including a temporary ban on all cryptocurrency mining in New York City. If passed, a moratorium would be the first statewide restriction on cryptocurrency mining in the United States.
The road to Bitcoin mining
Atlas Holdings, parent company of Greenidge Generation, took over the coal-fired power plant along Seneca Lake, just outside Dresden, in 2014. The facility was later converted to use natural gas to operate as a peaker facility. », Selling electricity to the grid in times of high demand.
Dale Irwin, CEO of Greenidge, said he was not familiar with Bitcoin when they restarted the factory, but he soon has found cryptocurrency mining to be a solid way to make profit when the plant was not providing much electricity to the grid.
“It was a very good business solution for us,” Irwin told reporters last month at the meeting where Greenidge’s plans to expand its facility were approved.
The process of approving these plans has not been without repression, much of it from environmental activists, led by Seneca Lake Guardian. The group alleged that Greenidge’s operations were having a detrimental impact on the lake’s ecosystem. They were also concerned that Greenidge would increase emissions by burning additional natural gas to power Bitcoin’s new miners.
“We just cannot allow this ridiculous scheme of burning fossil fuels to make fake money amid climate change,” Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian, told a hundred people gathered. to protest Greenidge last month.
Irwin would not state exactly how emissions will be generated as a result of Bitcoin’s mining expansion, only that the plant will continue to operate within its limits set by permit of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“We follow all the laws and regulations that the DEC applies to us and we will review them, we will study what they ask for and we will do everything,” Irwin said.
the DEC said that he is “keeping a close eye on” Greenidge, pointing specifically to his Bitcoin mining operation. Greenidge’s permits are due for renewal later this year.
Bitcoin’s energy problem
Unlike Greenidge, which generates its own energy, many Bitcoin miners run on electricity drawn from utilities or the grid.
Eilyan Bitar, a Cornell University * professor which specializes in electricity markets and grid operations, said mining more cryptocurrency could increase the base load on power grids, forcing providers of that electricity to speed up the production.
“It’s just such a complicated question. It hits bigger issues, ”Bitar said. “Well, okay, Bitcoin’s mining operations are driving demand higher. Ultimately, their impact on greenhouse gas emissions, total greenhouse gas emissions in New York State, the United States, or the world at large will depend on how this request will be satisfied. “
Hydroelectricity, wind and solar represented around 29 percent of all electricity production in the state in 2019. The rest comes from nuclear, natural gas and other non-renewable sources. With the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York has stepped up efforts to try to increase the share of electricity produced by renewables to 70% by 2030.
Cambridge University Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index estimates that global Bitcoin mining uses over 120 million megawatts (MW) of electricity per year, although that number tends to fluctuate. It is more electricity than the all of Virginia consumed in 2019.
Future in New York
There are no laws in New York that specifically deal with cryptocurrency mining. Short of a statewide law, it’s up to the communes regulate the practice through zoning restrictions. Some communities in the Finger Lakes region have discussed the possibility of regulation or have asked the state to consider regulations.
It is also unclear to what extent New York lawmakers would support a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining. While Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the state legislature, it is unclear where many of them fall on the issue of Bitcoin mining given its intersection between technology and technology. environment. The legislative prospects of pushing a moratorium before the end of the legislature session in June are also unclear.
For now, Bitcoin mining opportunities remain open. Last month, another cryptocurrency operator bought an old power plant in North Tonawanda, western New York.
* Full Disclosure: Cornell University is a WSKG Underwriter