Finger Lakes crypto mining plant expected to meet DEC requirement next week

A controversial crypto mining and power plant in Yates County is about to finish installing wire screens meant to better protect the surrounding Seneca Lake days before a state deadline.

Greenidge Generation Holdings Inc. is expected to complete installing cylindrical wedge wire screens at the facility to prevent fish mortality and offset impacts to Seneca Lake’s ecosystem by mid-next week. The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) extended the company’s deadline this fall to Jan. 20.

“We are a bunch of locals who really do care about the lake — we’re not a bunch of computers as people might make us out to be,” Greenidge Generation President Dale Irwin said. “Plenty of my teammates live and enjoy the lake every summer, every winter. We’re really excited that after 80 years of this plant operating, we can put in the best technology available to help protect the lake.”

The facility sucks in more than 130 million gallons of water from the lake each day, which the DEC says kills fish, eggs and other aquatic life.

The plant then expels water that’s an average of 9 to 13 degrees warmer back into the body of water, according to a thermal study the company conducted from May 2021 to April 2022 and submitted to the DEC Aug. 31. The monthly average inlet temperature of water withdrawn from Seneca Lake varied from 39.5 °F in February to 74.8 °F in August, averaging 55.5 °F for the year. The monthly average temperature differential varied from 9.4 °F to 13.6 °F. Maximum temperature differential each month ranged from 16.3 °F to 18.6 °F, according to the study.

Greenidge’s DEC permit allows the company to discharge water up to 108 degrees Fahrenheit into the lake, but the company stresses it does not discharge water close to that mamximum temperature.

The DEC continues to review the study, according to the department.

“DEC subjects all applications for environmental permits to a transparent and rigorous review process to protect public health and the environment,” according to a statement from the DEC on Friday.

The DEC initially allotted Greenidge five years to design, study and finish the project. Greenidge didn’t apply for the required Article 15 permit and a Water Quality Certificate from DEC until March 18, 2022. Public comments were accepted on the applications until Sept. 1 and DEC issued authorizations to complete the work Sept. 27.

Greenidge first submitted its required cylindrical wedge-wire screen pilot study plan to DEC in March 2018.

Advocates who’ve pushed for improved protections for the lake’s aquatic life for years say the screens are insufficient, citing a DEC pilot study that shows they’re about 77% effective.

“It’s doing nothing to protect our water in terms of the withdrawal and the discharge of heated water back into our lake that is responsible for partially our problems with harmful algal blooms,” said Yvonne Taylor, Seneca Lake Guardian’s vice president. “That’s a toxin for both humans and animals.”

The DEC closely monitors and studies the presence of harmful algal blooms across the state. Outbreaks in Seneca Lake continue to fluctuate, and have since Greenidge resumed operations in 2017. Advocates argue the plant’s operations have led to more algal blooms threatening the state’s largest glacial Finger Lake of 4.2 trillion gallons, but no data exists tying Greenidge to new, harmful algae.

Greenidge stresses the DEC studied and approved the screens and process for several years, and the plant is in compliance with the state’s requirements.

“The installation of the wedgewire screens is part of the suite of technologies that comprise the [best technology available],” according to the DEC on friday. “The 0.5 mm slot-width wedgewire screens with an intake velocity of less than 0.5 feet per second and variable speed drive pumps represent [the best technology available] at the Greenidge facility. DEC expects the combination of these technologies will minimize impingement and entrainment of fish, juvenile fish and eggs. DEC expects it will be equivalent to the reductions the facility would have achieved if it had installed a closed-cycle cooling system.”

Greenidge is required to report to the department how successful the upgrades are in minimizing harmful effects to the lake.

Greenidge president Irwin added critics don’t understand the process, as it took the state years of study and evaluation.

“This takes years of studies, engineering and procurement that’s prescribed and a procedure that’s sketched out by the DEC, the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] as a backstop, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Irwin said. “…When we received this permit five or six years ago, we knew it was going to take a full five years.”

Leaders with Seneca Lake Guardian say they will file suit against the plant at the end of the month, alleging insufficient data to the DEC about the discharge’s impact on the lake and compliance with federal water regulations. Seneca Lake Guardian, with counsel Earthjustice, filed a 60-day notice of intent to file a citizens’ suit Nov. 17.

Complicating matters for the plant, recent reports show Greenidge is millions of dollars in debt and may file for bankruptcy. The recent public filing shows how the company restructured its debt with a primary lender in efforts to improve its financial footing.

Environmental advocates say they won’t stop fighting for the plant’s operations to stop altogether, regardless of the DEC-approved upgrades.

“They’re in complete denial,” Taylor said. “I mean, it’s over. They need to close down and, you know, let our community heal.”

The DEC last June denied Greenidge’s application to renew its air permit because of its greenhouse gas emissions that are not in keeping with the state’s climate emission goals set in the 2019 Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act.

Greenidge appealed the decision, and is allowed to keep operating through the ongoing hearings.

The Greenidge Generation LLC issues conference concluded Wednesday, according to the DEC. The Administrative Law Judge scheduled a hearing for Jan. 13 for stipulation of facts to be agreed to and signed by the company, DEC staff and petitioners.

Greenidge’s brief is due Feb. 1. DEC and petitioners must submit response briefs by March 1.

No further submissions are allowed unless subsequently authorized by the Administrative Law Judge, according to the DEC.

Assemblywoman Anna Kelles is eager for the DEC’s response and judicial decision expected later this year.

“That will certainly impact Greenidge’s ability to move forward because if they do not have an air permit, they can’t continue to move forward,” said Kelles, a Democrat from Ithaca.

Plants like Greenidge are exempt from the state’s two-year moratorium on proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining operations. DEC will evaluate cryptocurrency mining and perform a full environmental impact assessment of the industry over the next two years, including the state’s ability to reach its lofty climate goals established in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

The information will guide what lawmakers do to regulate the industry, or plants like Greenidge, moving forward. Lawmakers today said they have not ruled out more large-scale bans within the industry in the state.

The DEC has not notified Greenidge of potential inclusion in its study to date.

*Editor’s note: This story corrects an earlier version that misstated the temperature of water Greenidge expels back into Seneca Lake. The DEC water permit for the crypto mining and power plant allows Greenidge to discharge water up to 108 Fahrenheit into the lake, but the plant’s Criteria Thermal Study reports it discharges water an average of 9 to 13 degrees warmer into the body of water.

Greenidge’s DEC permit allows the company to discharge water up to 108 degrees Fahrenheit into the lake, but the company stresses it does not discharge water close to that mamximum temperature.


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