TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The future of cryptocurrency mining in Tompkins County remains uncertain as efforts by activists and politicians once again have fallen just shy of the support needed to ban the controversial practice. In particular, Dr. Anna Kelles’ recent bill in the New York State Assembly, which sought to put a three-year moratorium on cryptocurrency mining, was approved by the Senate but did not make it through the assembly. 

“Bills can take years to pass,” Kelles, who represents the 125th district in the State Assembly, which includes much of the county, said. “This one is just particularly time-sensitive so there are going to be negative consequences of not passing it this past term because if any mining facilities are set up this year, they will be grandfathered in and not be affected by the moratorium.”

Concerns surrounding cryptocurrency mining are primarily based on the process’ environmental impacts as the acquisition of the digital currencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin, are not “mined” in the traditional way natural resources are mined, but instead are uncovered by computers with special programs solving math equations which in turn unencrypt or “mine” the cybercash. 

In order to run these computer programs, large amounts of energy are needed, leading to the creation of data mining “hubs” or facilities with massive amounts of computing technology inside—a practice already happening in the Finger Lakes and a possibility for the newly converted Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing

A prime example of the cryptocurrency mining industry’s utilization of upstate facilities is clearnearby —a previous coal-fired power plant on Seneca Lake has already become a mining hub, owned by Greenidge Generation. It currently houses 7,000 cryptocurrency mining machines and, according to WENY News, plans to expand their operations which will require four new buildings. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the town of Torrey have approved this expansion.

“The why of why I did this was not to put a pause and a study on one facility,” Kelles said,  “but acknowledging that there is a trend and it could hit like wildfire and single handedly undo our environmental goals, that we haven’t even obtained, and make it impossible to reach our [Climate Leadership] goals.” 

One of the biggest issues with mining is the enormous amounts of energy it requires to run the computer programs and mining facilities in general. For example, according to a BBC report, Bitcoin mining alone uses more electricity in a year than the entire country of Argentina.

A CNBC report stated that Bitcoin mining also makes up around 35.95 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, not to mention there is also an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 tons of electronic waste produced by the mining each year.

On Seneca Lake, on top of just energy usage and toxic emissions there is the issue of water quality and increased water temperature. According to Kelles’ research, cryptocurrency mining pulls in about 139 million gallons of water a day from Seneca, which is around 40 to 60 degrees on average and it circulates the water through the building in order to counter the heat produced by the energy production. This was confirmed by Yvonne Taylor of the Seneca Lake Guardian.

“It provides a free coolant system to them but it’s not free to us and it’s not free to the environment,” Kelles said. “It dumps the water back out up to 86 degrees in the summer and up to 108 degrees in winter, that is their permit.”

This water is then dumped into a trout stream. At around 70 degrees trout can start showing signs of severe stress which can affect their fertility, spawning and their mortality rates. An impact like this could harm the trout’s ecosystem and the agritourism that the Finger Lakes region thrives on. Water intakes for the facility are also a problem.

“The DEC told Greenidge that they should have wedge wire screens on those intake pipes to prevent fish and other aquatic life from being sucked into those pipes and killed,” Taylor said. “They have yet to install those screens.”

The increase in water temperature also increases the risk and frequency of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on Seneca. HABs is also a problem in the Finger Lakes region as a whole, not just on Seneca Lake. Thus, environmental activists and like minded politicians fear what may happen if the same technology is implemented on Cayuga. 

Vice President of Development at Heorot Power Management, a subsidiary of Beowulf Energy, Jerry Goodenough publicly declared last year that the company has no intention of using the retired coal plant for cyber currencies—though that is not to say that without legal barriers the company couldn’t change its mind. It is also apparent the company has interests in blockchain and cryptocurrency as the former coal power plant they first took over in Montana mines Bitcoin

“We know in the past that there was a plan to develop a data center there very soon which they call them data centers,” Taylor said. “That’s the greenwash tacky name for these mining facilities and then you quickly discover what they’re really doing…there’s no registration or monitoring or way to find out and that’s what happened at the Greendige facility.”

Mikayla Rovenolt

Mikayla Rovenolt interns with the Ithaca Voice and is also a contributing writer for Queers for a Cause, an online based Lgbtq news and advocacy blog. Tips or stories? Contact mikaylarovenolt@gmail.com.