Proof-of-Work cryptocurrency mining —commonly known as Bitcoin mining — is a growing industry in New York and poses a massive threat to our climate. Speculators are invading upstate in order to make a fake buck, bringing little economic benefit to the communities they are based in, while hampering the progress New York is making to move away from burning dirty fossil fuels.
Gov. Kathy Hochul needs to declare a moratorium on proof-of-work bitcoin mining in New York State. Now. Here’s why.
Greenidge Generation LLC operates a power plant on the shores of Seneca Lake. Once a coal-burning plant, it closed its doors and reopened years later as a natural gas peaker plant. But that wasn’t profitable enough for its owners at Atlas Holdings, so they filled the plant with 15,300 proof- of- work bitcoin mining machines, using massive amounts of energy to run 24/7 in order to produce a few bitcoins. Their goal is to eventually fill the facility with 30,000 machines, which would consume enough energy to power 93,000 homes. Greenidge is doing all this under the same Title V air permits it was granted to run as a peaker plant, to only be used when excess energy was needed by the public. That air permit is currently up for renewal, and the Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision could come any day.
Greenidge is the test case for the encroaching wave of cryptocurrency mining that could result in the conversion of nearly 30 shuttered upstate power plants. These power plants closed as New York led the country in moving away from burning dirty fossil fuels, and they could reopen not to produce energy for New Yorkers or support our economy, but to make rich private equity guys richer. There is currently no state or federal oversight of cryptocurrency mining operations. The longer Hochul waits to act, the longer she is putting our climate at stake. Repowering or expanding coal and gas plants to make fake money in the middle of a climate crisis is literally insane.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining is so energy intensive because it requires multiple machines running at once, trying to solve the same complex equation. The more machines that are running, the better the chances are of earning a bitcoin. Each one of these machines requires energy to run, plus more energy to run cooling technology. Globally, proof-of-work Bitcoin mining uses the same amount of energy each day as the entire country of Argentina.
Proof-of-work is not the only way to mine crypto — proof-of-stake, another popular method, uses far less energy. But proof-of-work’s energy use across the country has risen 320% in just the past five years, and New York hosts nearly 20% of that.
Thanks to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York is supposed to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. Crypto mining jeopardizes achieving this goal. Some of these plants, including Greenidge, produce dirty energy for their own bitcoin-mining use and not public consumption, meaning they can sidestep many of the CLCPA’s requirements. And if they don’t produce their own energy, they guzzle up the public’s, driving up the price of everyday New Yorkers’ energy bills and depleting whatever renewable energy we have. It’s a catch-22.
It’s not just the climate that’s at stake — crypto mining facilities are threats to local economies. For one, they are extremely noisy, driving down property values. And power plants use more water than any other industry. Greenidge Generation is located on the shores of Seneca Lake, where it extracts 139 million gallons of water every day and then dumps it back in at temperatures that are allowed to reach up to 108 degrees. This is called “once-through cooling,” and it can kill billions of fish annually. This is a huge threat to the farms, wineries, and other occupations that make up the $3 billion agri-tourism industry in the Finger Lakes, and none of those jobs will be replaced by the automated machines that run the crypto mines.
Proof-of-work bitcoin mining causes so much harm, with no good. That’s why parts of China and India have already banned it. The Department of Environmental Conservation must deny Greenidge Generation’s permit renewal, and Hochul must follow with a moratorium until a full environmental review is conducted to understand the full impact of proof of work crypto mining. If she doesn’t, we face a dangerous wave of a growing industry that will suck up our resources and destroy our climate. It’s not just New York’s future as a leader in fighting climate change that’s at stake — it’s New York’s future, period.
Yvonne Taylor is co-founder and vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian, an advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the Finger Lakes from pollution.