image from Financial Times
Cryptocurrency is a genuine threat to our environment - the proof-of-Work (PoW) process uses more energy in the computing process than all of Argentina. Companies are eyeing moth-balled power plants here in NY, converting them to gas burning plants, and using the energy to mine bitcoin. This has already happened on Seneca Lake and there are 4 possible plants here in Monroe County. Read our blog article from April on the topic here.
There is a state-wide coalition of environmental groups working to stop the expansion of PoW Cryptocurrency Mining and we have signed onto this letter, supporting the effort:
The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Re: Call for an environmental assessment of Proof-of-Work Cryptocurrency Mining in NYS and denial of permits for the Greenidge Generating Station and the Fortistar North Tonawanda Facility
Dear Governor Hochul:
We, the undersigned organizations, write today to urge your administration to issue a statewide moratorium on Proof-of-Work (PoW) cryptocurrency mining until a thorough statewide Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) is conducted, and to deny the permits for the Greenidge Generating Station and the Fortistar North Tonawanda Facility. These “mining” activities, particularly Proof-of-Work cryptocurrency mining use enormous amounts of energy to power the computers needed to conduct business – should this activity expand in New York, it could drastically undermine New York’s climate goals established under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
Cryptomining is a relatively new technology that provides the basis for cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are virtual currencies, which means they exist only online and there are no physical notes and coins. Cryptocurrencies also don’t belong to a central bank, meaning they have no government backing. They are international currencies and can be used to send money around the world without any identity checks, making them a popular choice for cybercriminals involved in malicious or criminal activity. In the ransomware attack on the Colonial pipeline, for example, the criminals were paid their “ransom” in cryptocurrency.
Digital currencies require authentication to prevent fraudulent transactions. PoW is the method that has the most significant energy demands. In PoW authentication, complex mathematical equations are assigned to each transaction and miners compete to solve them. The first one to solve an equation authenticates the transaction and wins currency for their effort. The equations can only be solved by brute force guesswork, so the person or company with the most computational power wins the most currency. With some currencies valued at over $48,000 a coin, albeit in a highly speculative market, a global digital gold rush is taking place with hundreds of millions of computers competing for an edge in the market.
In New York, data mining operations using warehouses full of computers have set up shop in upstate areas siphoning electricity from New York’s grid, “re-powering” defunct fossil-fueled power plants, thus seriously jeopardizing the state’s progress on and meeting mandates for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to research from the New York Times, globally, Bitcoin mining consumes more electricity than the entire country of Ireland, which is almost 0.5% of all electricity consumption worldwide.
Additionally, there are very few jobs created by this industry, with profits accruing to the few, but the environmental impacts affect us all, particularly BIPOC communities that are often located near fossil fuel power plants, and have been disproportionately affected by ongoing and legacy contamination.
New York must halt this move to turn old fossil-fuel powered plants into cryptomining centers until a full environmental assessment is conducted on the impact that these operations will have on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the state’s air and water quality.
There are at least two fossil-fueled power plants in New York, the Greenidge Generating Station and the Fortistar North Tonawanda Facility, that serve as a test for New York State. We urge your administration to deny the Title V Air Permits for these two facilities, as they do not comply with the state’s climate law.
We were pleased to see Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos state that “Greenidge has not shown compliance with New York’s climate law,” and we entirely agree. The GHG emissions at the Greenidge Generating Station are skyrocketing. Greenidge’s current air permit allows annual emissions of up to 641,878 tons of GHGs despite the fact that for the last ten years it emitted zero emissions for six of those ten years, and emitted 119,207 tons of CO2 in 2018, 39,406 tons of CO2 in 2019, and 228,303 tons of CO2 in 2020.
Additionally, the GHG emissions at the Fortistar North Tonawanda facility are also skyrocketing. As a power plant serving the grid, the power plant’s annual emissions were 12,448 tons of CO2 for 2018, 9,245 tons of CO2 for 2019, and 10,981 tons of CO2 for 2020. The permit application states that the power plant’s potential CO2 emissions is estimated to be 339,068 tons per year, approximately thirty times its 2020 CO2 emissions. The plant is also estimating large increases in several other harmful co-pollutants including sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter that will impact local air quality and public health.
Most of the energy generated at these power plants is not going into the electrical grid. Instead, it is being used by private technology companies where the financial rewards remain with the companies themselves and their investors, while the environmental impacts are externalized, impacting our community, our state, and our ever-warming world.
As you have witnessed in your early weeks on the job, the climate crisis in New York is here now. New York City recently saw unprecedented flooding that led to the loss of lives - strong climate action is needed now more than ever. We urge you to lead the way and set a national precedent on the issue of Proof-of-Work cryptocurrency by issuing a statewide moratorium and denying the permits for Greenidge and Fortistar.
Thank you for your time and consideration of our comments.