Greenidge Generation’s Operation Presents Significant Risk to the Health of Seneca Lake
Written by Jake Welch, Pure Waters President
Excessive thermal pollution and lack of fish protection screens present serious hazards to the health of Seneca Lake and are strongly opposed by Seneca Pure Waters together with other environmental groups. This article provides important information about the impact of current and proposed operations of the Greenidge Generation company that have, or may have, a significant negative impact on Seneca Lake and makes recommendations to prevent further damage.
Greenidge Generation Background
Located in Dresden, the Greenidge Generation power facility obtained approval in September 2016, to operate a natural gas-fueled 106 megawatt (MW) electrical generation facility from the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC). With this approval, Greenidge was also provided a “lightened regulatory regime” by the PSC based on the premise of providing electrical power and thereby serving the public good. In January 2020, Greenidge filed a petition with the PSC to use its power generation as the sole source of electricity for one of its on-site commercial tenants. In actuality, this “tenant” turned out to be Greenidge’s own bitcoin mining operation. Bitcoin mining is the business of verifying cryptocurrency transactions using high-powered computational processing. Even if Greenidge were to mine only five bitcoins, it would produce some $90,000 in daily revenue based on recent market conditions. None of this mining does anything to serve the public good. Rather it produces personal profit for Greenidge and its billion-dollar parent company, Atlas Holdings.
How does the Greenidge operation affect Seneca Lake?
Bitcoin mining requires extensive electrical power and vast amounts of water, all of which is drawn out of Seneca Lake. Per its current Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) permit, Greenidge is shockingly allowed to intake some 134,000,000 gallons of water per day out of Seneca Lake. The permit also allows this volume of water to be warmed to a temperature level of 108°F in the summer and up to 86°F in the winter before being discharged back into the environment (DEC permit dated 10/1/17). This permitted level was granted based on plant operations occurring many years ago . Additionally, the water intake is in an area occupied by fish. Screens have not been installed at the intake to protect native fish populations. This is in derogation of Title 33 United States Code 1326(b) of the Clean Water Act (33 USC 1326(b)).
Concerns of Seneca Pure Waters and other environmental organizations
There are currently 4 key areas of significant concern.
1. Lack of required studies to show the impact on lake
The liberal allowance of the DEC permit occurred during a situation where the plant was to provide a public benefit and, therefore lightened regulation. However, the DEC must have had serious environmental concerns as it charged Greenidge with the task of updating a thermal discharge study that had been filed by previous plant owners back in 2011. The updated environmental investigation was to include “field studies, thermal modeling and submission of an approvable thermal criteria study report”. The report was to be submitted within one year of a schedule approved by the DEC. One would surmise the study would be completed close to the 12 months following issuance of the permit. Under circumstances which have not been made available, nor clear, neither the schedule nor the thermal study report has ever come to fruition. In fact, during this past year Greenidge provided a letter stating it would not provide a thermal study until sometime in the spring of 2022. This would be some five years after the State DEC permit issuance indicating the need for thermal study in the upcoming year or so.
2. Greenidge’s expected plans for expansion
This past year, Greenidge submitted plans for a significant increase in its mining operations that would add four more buildings to form a “data center “. The buildings will house an increased number of computers and require more energy to be produced at the plant. In turn, there will also be more thermal warming of water placed back into Seneca Lake.
3. Documented evidence of current impact
Title 6 – New York Code of Rules and Regulations, Part 704.2 B (2) (6 NYCRR 704.2 B (2)) mandates that no thermal discharge over 70°F shall be permitted at any time for water bodies classified as trout streams. Under that same regulation, temperatures are not to be raised more than 2° from June to September and not more than 5° in the remaining months of the year. These numbers should be presumed as proper standards establishing what is and what is not thermal pollution for the waters of New York State, inclusive of the Keuka Outlet where Greenidge discharges millions of gallons of water per day.
What has been recorded from discharge directly into the Keuka Outlet showed temperature readings in the late summer/early fall of 2020 near 90°F and others near 100°F. These temperature readings also indicated the stream temperature being raised multiple times beyond the 2°F maximum allowed. These extreme temperatures threaten the reproductive abilities of trout which are dependent on colder stream waters. In addition, the lack of protective screens at the point of water intake threaten all fish populations.
4. Harmful algal blooms on Seneca Lake
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are associated with excessive water warming. Other than in the past year, where there was a statewide drought, the area just north of the Keuka outlet has been tagged by Pure Water’s monitors as a hotspot due to recurrent blooms occurring in that area. Clearly a prompt and thorough environmental study should be conducted to evaluate the impact of these plant operations. Putting this off to the year 2022 is not an acceptable answer and draws concerns as to whether that will even occur.
SLPWA's 2021 fundraising pitch: There are more threats to the lake than ever
GENEVA — The president of Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association has issued a warning as the organization begins its annual fundraising campaign.
“(Many parts of the largest of the 11 Finger Lakes) have been completely turned green by toxic algae due to increased nutrient loading and global warming,” said Jacob Welch, who lives in the Yates County hamlet of Himrod. “In addition, some nearby lakes have been overcome by weeds such as the dreaded hydrilla. We really should up our game in protecting this lake, not just as a source of recreation, but also as a way of keeping our local economy strong.”...
Read More here
Listen to the story of the HABs season on Seneca Lake with Ted Baker and Bill Roege, Pure Waters HAB Program Director
Click Here for Recording
October Radio show included a conversation with Kaitlin Fello, Pure Waters' Administrative Coordinator, with commentary on the first ever Virtual Annual Meeting and Silent Auction Success, upcoming fundraising events, and the unexpected HAB season on Seneca Lake.
October Kaitlin Fello Seneca Lake Pure Waters FLMN.mp3
DID YOU KNOW?
Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association is on the Radio with Ted Baker every month! Tune into Finger Lakes News Radio, 95.9FM/1240AM WGVA or 98.1FM/1590AM WAUB, 8:15am the first Friday of every month, for Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association News!
Listen in to the Pure Waters' monthly radio show with Geneva Town Supervisor and Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization Chair, Mark Venuti. Venuti discusses the importance of the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization, Seneca Watershed Steward, Ian Smith, and the town's Lake Friendly Farm program successes.
091820 Geneva Supervisor Mark Venuti FLMN.mp3
Listen here to the Pure Waters July Radio Show
Tune into Finger Lakes News Radio
95.9FM/1240AM WGVA or 98.1FM/1590AM WAUB
8:15am the first Friday of every month
for Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association News!
Read the Observer Review Article on Lake Friendly Living!
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Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association
P.O. Box 247
Geneva, NY 14456