Yates recommends against authorization
YATES COUNTY--In a move that ignited applause from many in attendance on Zoom, the Yates County Planning Board voted to recommend against authorizing the construction of four buildings intended to house Bitcoin mining computers at the Greenidge Generation Plant in Torrey, Thursday, Jan. 28. While the board's decision, which passed 5-3 with one abstention, does not prevent the construction of the buildings, it does mean the site plan can only be approved by the Torrey Planning Board through a majority plus one vote instead of a simple majority.
"I can't believe this will have no environmental impact because they will have to cool this building... when this plant was permitted to reopen it was a public utility and now it's become a private enterprise and it's going to damage our lake, atmosphere and drive up the cost of gas, so for the county it's certainly a (negative)," said Robert Schiesser, chair of the Yates County Planning Board.
The vote took place after a contentious yet polite public session that involved residents, planning board members, representatives from local and statewide environmental non-profits and a lawyer representing Greenidge, which is owned by Atlas Holdings of Connecticut.
"If (the Town of Torrey) wants to approve (the site application), it will have to be by a supermajority," said Schiesser.
The primary issue, which took up most of the meeting, revolved around whether or not the board should only consider the site plan under the context of the proposed buildings themselves, or if consideration should be given as to the purpose of the buildings. While saying the buildings would be of standard construction methods, board members took issue with the fact the purpose of the buildings would be to mine an estimated $50,000 worth of Bitcoins daily. Bitcoin is a digital currency used online to give money to another party (peer-to-peer) without an intermediary. The "mining" describes the process by which large groups of computers extract value of the Bitcoin through the use of computing power.
The process to mine Bitcoins at that scale would require all the energy generated by Greenidge, along with the use of billions of gallons of Seneca Lake water annually to cool the operation. The water can be released back into the lake through the Keuka Outlet at temperatures up to 108 degrees.
Kevin McAuliffe, a lawyer and partner at Barclay Damon LLP of Syracuse representing Greenidge, repeatedly attempted to remind the board it was only their responsibility to consider the potential construction of the site plan and not power plant operations.
"The operation of (Greenidge), even with the addition of these four buildings, would not change... the bounds of the existing... permits," McAuliffe said.
He added permitting and oversight of the power plant falls directly under the oversight of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and issues regarding usage of the power plant should only be brought up with them.
"The DEC has issued Greenidge water and air permits... based on (24 hours, seven days a week) operation of the facility to provide electricity," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe stated Greenidge has complied with all conditions set forth by the DEC, including the commissioning of a study to determine the impact of heated water being introduced into the water system.
In a press statement issued at the end of January by Greenidge, it argued environmental non-profits concerned over the expansion of the mining operation should be praising Greenidge for its environmental stewardship.
However, during the meeting McAuliffe acknowledged Greenidge is seeking expansion despite the fact a study required by the DEC on potential impacts created by reintroducing heated water has yet to be completed.
"I don't know the date that (the study) is going to be done but (the DEC) had to approve the time, the hours per day, the times of the year, that study will be done at multiple times throughout the year," McAuliffe said. It's not a one-time study, it's a very long study to address thermal impact of the discharge of the water... that's all been approved by the DEC."
When pressed on environmental concerns regarding the expansion, McAuliffe repeatedly said the plant operated under DEC parameters.
"DEC has already determined that the operation of this plan at 106 megawatts with the various environmental constraints in place... and everything else are all within bounds of the DEC permit," added McAuliffe.
Mary Anne Kowalski, president of the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, took issue with how McAuliffe responded and questioned him directly.
"The study as to whether or not this will harm the fish will not be done for years, and saying this is within the DEC permit doesn't mean that it is without harm," Kowalski said.
McAuliffe responded Greenidge was not in violation of any timeline and their permits were in full effect.
"I don't think this board can order studies nor can it turn this application down on the basis the DEC is taking too long to do something... that is not our problem," McAuliffe said.
Kowalski responded that she was glad McAuliffe was finally acknowledging the potential for environmental damage stemming from the Bitcoin mining operation at Greenidge.
"There is always a potential environmental impact, I didn't say there wasn't one but the DEC has determined we are operating in the permit levels," McAuliffe said.
This led to a number of residents voicing concerns the expansion of the Bitcoin mining operation could be potentially harmful to the largest and most profitable industry in the region; tourism, especially on and around the lake.