Greenidge decision moves to April meeting
Update 4/12/21: Town officials have confirmed to our newspapers the date for the Greenidge meeting is April 19, as originally reported.
Update 3/18/21: The story's first sentence has been changed from saying the date of the Greenidge decision is April 19 to only April. At a Monday night meeting, after this story was completed, it has been reported that a special meeting has been scheduled for April 26 to consider the Greenidge plan. The Observer and REVIEW&EXPRESS are awaiting confirmation on this before the story is updated again.
FINGER LAKES--The review of the Greenidge Generation expansion application with four new buildings that could be utilized for Bitcoin mining computers has been moved to April. According to Torrey and Greenidge officials, the delay is nothing more than a logistical issue regarding the town attorney.
"It's not really a delay, it's just the town attorney can't make it so they wanted to reschedule," said Mike McKeon, spokesman for Greenidge. "It's 100 percent logistical."
The expansion application has been highlighted amongst residents, elected officials and environmental non-profits across the region as the existing power plant looks to focus its generation capacities on running computer Bitcoin mining machines.
"We haven't finalized (how many machines would be added)...Just because we are applying for four buildings does not mean we would use all four," McKeon said. "That has yet to be determined."
The power plant on Seneca Lake was originally coal-fired and has since been converted to natural gas. The facility has permits allowing for the use of Seneca Lake water to cool the power generating plant. Permits allow for up to 134,000,000 gallons per day to be withdrawn and returned from Seneca Lake with a maximum discharge temperature of 86 degrees in the winter and 108 degrees in the summer. The allowable differential between the intake and discharge in the winter is 31 degrees and 26 in the summer. The permit's effective date was Oct. 1, 2017, and the expiration date is Sept. 30, 2022.
Representatives from environmental non-profits the Seneca Lake Guardian, the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes and the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter have argued the environmental impact of the operation should be further studied and reviewed.
"The public should know that, while Greenidge is operating within the permits issued by DEC in 2017, these limits do not comply with the requirements of either the DEC law or regulations or the Federal Clean Water Act," Seneca Lake Guardian said in a letter to supporters. "In fact, their permit indicates a number of requirements where Greenidge will not be in compliance until corrective actions are taken or where studies are required to determine compliant limits."
The group references DEC law 704.2, which in part says, "No discharge at a temperature over 70 degrees Fahrenheit shall be permitted at any time to streams classified for trout."
Greenidge representatives have repeated throughout the application process that they are in full compliance with all permits pertaining to the operation of the plant. They have also said that while they are expanding the computer utilization of the power being produced, they are not expanding the power generating capacity.
Greenidge responded to the claim about the Keuka Outlet saying, "From Feb. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020, the average temperature of the water we discharged was 65 degrees...Our discharged water is on average only 8.4 degrees warmer than when we took it in from the lake; this increase has a negligible impact on the Keuka Outlet and the lake and is fully compliant with Greenidge's SPDES water permit issued by NYSDEC...There was not one day during this period when the average temperature of the water discharged was 100 degrees or hotter."
A study required by the Department of Environmental Conservation to determine the impact of reintroducing billions of gallons of heated water per year is currently underway and is expected in about a year.
That point was one of the issues brought up during the February Yates County Planning Board meeting which resulted in a 5-3 vote against a recommendation.
Despite the rejection, authority over the permitting for the four buildings still resides with the Torrey Planning Board. The county planning board rejection now requires a supermajority for the Torrey Planning Board to approve the application.
"We are a power plant that produces power for the grid, that is our fundamental and central mission," McKeon said. "In addition, we have a data center that we have had now for about a year operating at the facility using power from the plant, that is not necessary for the grid, to power the center. What the site plan does is allow us four small facilities where we could house additional machines. It's not a new thing."
According to McKeon, roughly 40 percent of the current power generated at the plant goes to power Bitcoin computers.
"100 percent of the power generated here is available for the state if called upon," McKeon said.
Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency, or cryptocurrency, that uses peer-to-peer technology for transactions. The computer processes are conducted by mining computers who autonomously compete with one another for the ability to conduct a block of transactions. Fees are paid to the operators of the mining computers, as well as awards are given in Bitcoin. The more Bitcoin computers used, the higher a person or company's chance of obtaining new tokens are.