A New York-based power plant is under fire from local residents who claim a nearby lake is more like a hot tub since converting into a natural gas-powered Bitcoin mine.
Greenidge Generation’s plant has provided communities around Seneca Lake with electricity for decades.
In 2019, it was adapted for the sole purpose of mining Bitcoin.
Residents of Dresden in upstate New York recently suggested the vast amounts of water pumped out by the plant — which help power the reported 8,000 Bitcoin rigs housed there — are damaging the lake’s ecosystem, harming fish and wildlife.
But data from Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Finger Lakes Institute tells a less apocalyptic tale.
What goes down can come back up
Numbers collated by the Institute’s Seneca Lake Buoy (which provides water quality profiles and meteorological data) suggests alleged damage caused by the plant’s wastewater are a little overstated.
First, there’s claims of the Bitcoin mine turning the 2 million-year-old glacial lake into a “hot tub.”
While the figures — handily compiled by Twitter user @level39 — do show slight changes in water temperature, they’re not entirely consistent with the plant’s water exhausts boiling the lake.
In fact, during two of the plant’s operational years (2018 and 2019), the lake’s measured temperature actually dropped.
Granted, that was before the plant started supporting Bitcoin mining in January 2020.
Still, this historical data supports the theory that the supposed problem isn’t widespread across Seneca Lake, but rather hyperlocal — confined to the area around the water outlets.
According to the figures:
- Greenidge is permitted to pump 135 million gallons of water up to 108˚F back into the lake each day.
- Seneca Lake contains 3.81 cubic miles of water (4.2 trillion gallons), meaning the max volume the plant puts back is just 0.003% of the total.
- Greenridge’s data says the average difference between intake and outflow between March and April this year was only 6.8 degrees.
So, what about the Bitcoin-centric plant’s effect on wildlife in the lake?
Bitcoin mine doesn’t blend fish
Those protesting the plant (and its planned expansion) claimed the number of fish — particularly trout — has declined since Greenidge started supporting Bitcoin.
The data available shows the locals may have a point. Or, at least there’s not as much data to refute their claims.
It’s accepted that the numbers of fish caught on Seneca Lake, as well as the sizes of the fish snared, have steadily fallen over a number of years.
While this cannot be directly linked to the effects of the hot water Greenidge discharges just yet, studies on other bodies of water show that even a slight temperature increase can harm wildlife living in it.
However, the intake pipes that feed the plant could be affecting the fish.
Greenidge’s pipes were described in a 2011 report as “giant fish blenders” due to their ability to suck in and obliterate fish in vast quantities.
Indeed, a report commissioned by the Greenidge plant’s previous owner estimated the facility blended — or “entrained” — about 10,000 fish and crayfish in 2006 and 2007.
The federal Clean Water Act requires intakes of Greenidge’s size be fitted with protective screens. Greenidge was given five years to comply, meaning the lake’s fish can’t rest easy until late next year.
Despite the protests from locals, the plant’s owner and operator maintains that everything they’re doing is completely legal.
And, as reported by The Independent, Greenidge’s advisory group says most of the complaints have already been dismissed by a New York court and those still protesting have offered “nothing new.”