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Bitcoin-Mining Power Plant Stirs Up Controversy

greenidge

(Image credit: Greenidge)

Bitcoin mining is an incredibly resource-intensive process. So what better place to do it than an abandoned power plant? Well, as New York Focus reported this week, Finger Lakes environmentalists think the answer is “pretty much anywhere else.”

The conflict revolves around a power plant on New York's Seneca Lake called Greenidge. The company’s website says the plant was opened in 1937, shuttered in 2009, and purchased by new owners in 2014. Those owners started mining Bitcoin in  the facility in 2019.

New York Focus reported that Greenidge plans “to quadruple the power used to process Bitcoin transactions by late next year” as the cryptocurrency’s value soars. Environmentalists fear those plans would lead to dangerously high CO2 emissions.

This isn’t a new concern. Researchers have warned about the environmental implications of cryptocurrency mining for years, claimed that Bitcoin uses more electricity than all of Argentina each year and said the increasing popularity of Bitcoin mining could prevent countries like China from meeting their climate goals.

Yet, those warnings have often been ignored as Bitcoin’s value has risen. That’s unlikely to stop now that the cryptocurrency has a $1 trillion market cap and recently saw its price rise to an all-time high as the Coinbase trading platform went public.

Bitcoin’s defenders often claim that it’s hard to measure the cryptocurrency’s effect on global warming because every mining operation is different. Some could use the cleanest energy sources available; others might be as pollutant as they get.

This is where local conflicts like this come in. New York Focus pointed to the same numbers environmental advocates are using to argue against the company’s plans for expansion.

”Last year, Greenidge’s GHG emissions were far below the plant’s annual allowance of 641,000 tons of CO2-equivalent gasses,“ the report said. “But as Greenidge ramped up Bitcoin transaction processing throughout 2020, its rolling 12-month GHG emissions average soared nearly tenfold, from 28,000 tons in January to 243,000 tons in December.”

Now imagine how things could worsen if Greenidge quadruples power usage as planned. There wouldn’t necessarily be a one-to-one increase, of course, but it’s not hard to figure out why local residents might oppose Greenidge’s expansion plans.

The other fear is that more power plants — which, by their very nature, have access to the massive amounts of electricity required to mine Bitcoin—might follow Greenidge in expanding into the cryptocurrency market.

It’s worth reading the full New York Focus report on Greenidge’s situation, especially if you live in upstate New York, but this should serve as a welcome reminder that Bitcoin’s rise has far greater implications beyond making crypto enthusiasts rich.

  • Phaaze88
    Just hah. Hah. HAH.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    Even if a mining operation operates on 'green energy', there is nothing green about bumping the rest of the grid's load on other not-necessarily-green sources just to tout your own pseudo-green credential. Every GWh of hydro, wind and solar power that goes into mining is 1GWh less in renewable energy available to the rest of the grid.
    Reply
  • bigdragon
    I'm sure this plant is dumping tons of heat and e-waste too. The overall environmental impact goes way beyond CO2. Even dirty power plants contribute electricity to the grid, but this place just sucks up and wastes power. International leaders should have dealt with the cryptocurrency plague by now. Facilities like this mining operation shouldn't be allowed to exist.
    Reply
  • gdmaclew
    " keep countries like China from meeting their climate goals."

    Now that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one.
    China doesn't have any climate goals. They are building coal-fired power plants at a feverish pace and letting the rest of the world work like hell towards a goal that is unattainable.
    Reply
  • ThatMouse
    The good news is we haven't even started reducing CO2 yet! That's also the bad news.
    Reply
  • King_V
    gdmaclew said:
    " keep countries like China from meeting their climate goals."

    Now that's an oxymoron if I ever heard one.
    China doesn't have any climate goals. They are building coal-fired power plants at a feverish pace and letting the rest of the world work like hell towards a goal that is unattainable.

    Kind of inaccurate, there. That's more what the US was doing, not China. To be more specific, from an article in September 2020: https://www.powermag.com/china-promotes-climate-goal-and-builds-new-coal-plants/
    China relies heavily on coal-fired power, even as the country is among the world leaders in renewable energy. China leads the world in production of solar panels and wind turbines, and also is the world’s leading manufacturer of electric cars and buses.

    The US?
    U.S. Has No Carbon Goal
    U.S. officials have not commented on Xi’s plan, and the U.S. has no announced goal to reduce GHG emissions. The U.S. is the world’s No. 2 emitter of GHG, though its emissions are about half those of China, which released the equivalent of 10 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, according to the Global Carbon Project, which tracks global emissions worldwide.
    ...
    U.S. President Donald Trump, who once described climate change as a hoax invented by China, has said he will pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, although the earliest date that could happen is after this year’s presidential election. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden already has said he will recommit the U.S. to the Paris Agreement.

    Biden, in an address on climate in July of this year, in which he announced a $2 trillion climate plan, said, “We’re going to reverse Trump’s rollbacks of 100 public health and environmental rules, and then forge a path to greater ambition. We’re going to get back into the Paris Agreement, and back into the business of leading the world.”


    China pulls a lot of crap, but stick to blaming them for what they're actually doing, and don't project the US's actions on to China.


    Thankfully, the 2020 election results mean we're going to actually have climate goals again.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    King_V said:
    Thankfully, the 2020 election results mean we're going to actually have climate goals again.
    Even going back to the Kyoto accords, which the US did NOT sign for various good reasons....the US met and exceeded what would have been its goals.
    Without officially signing on to it.
    Reply
  • King_V
    USAFRet said:
    Even going back to the Kyoto accords, which the US did NOT sign for various good reasons....the US met and exceeded what would have been its goals.
    Without officially signing on to it.
    Clinton signed but could not ratify, as the Senate was not on board.

    Bush then didn't even try, echoing the tired old GOP rhetoric of "It's going to cost too much and ruin our economy" which they continued touting for years. And they were wrong.
    https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/04/the-us-is-doing-well-on-emissions-but-not-halfway-to-zero/
    In 2005 (and for a number of years afterward), people frequently announced that reducing the carbon emissions of the grid would come at a catastrophic cost. That has turned out to be very wrong. Retail electricity prices (in 2005 constant dollars) went from 10.6 cents/kiloWatt-hour all the way up to... 10.7 cents/kW-hr. The projections had them falling slightly, so we're in worse shape than expected in this sense, but it's anything but a crippling rise in price.


    So, if we exceeded what would've been our goals, then why didn't we sign? What WOULD have been our goals under Kyoto, and what did we do instead? What policies did we have in place?
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    King_V said:
    Clinton signed but could not ratify, as the Senate was not on board.
    The entire Senate. 95-0.
    For good reasons.

    Kyoto was simply a money transfer program.

    The West (US, Europe) had to do a lot.
    The other major GHG producers (Russia, China, India, Brazil) had to do nothing.
    Even worse, allowed to increase, because...reasons.

    If the goal is to actually reduce GHG, then do that. Write that into the thing.

    Whatever...let's not gt too political about this. Not the place for it.
    Reply
  • Publio Emerson
    There is a cryptocurrency capable of solving this problem, Gridcoin (GRC) is able to use all this processing power waste in useful projects in which would be necessary sophisticated supercomputers
    Reply