Bitcoin Miners Resurrect Fossil Fuel Power Plant, Drawing Backlash From Environmentalists

The Greenidge Generation bitcoin-mining operation near Seneca Lake in New York state.

The Greenidge Generation bitcoin-mining operation near Seneca Lake in New York state. Greenidge Generation

A cryptocurrency-mining operation in central New York has reopened a shuttered fossil fuel power plant to power 15,300 computer servers used to unlock bitcoins, raising concerns among environmentalists, the Associated Press reports.

Miners access new bitcoins by solving complex math problems, a task that requires the use of energy-intensive computers. To supply the power needed, Greenidge Generation converted a former coal plant on the shore of Seneca Lake to a gas-fired plant in 2017. It started mining at the plant last year, generating 44 megawatts of electricity, largely to supply its operation, with the surplus sold to the grid.

The high value of bitcoins is incentivizing such power use. As of Friday, a single bitcoin was worth more than $59,000. From July through September, Greenidge mined 729 bitcoins, AP reports. Demand for electricity among cryptocurrency miners has alarmed environmentalists, who are asking the state of New York not to renew the Greenidge plant’s air quality permit.

“The current state of our climate demands action on cryptocurrency mining,” Liz Moran of Earthjustice told AP. “We are jeopardizing the state’s abilities to meet our climate goals.”

Other mining operations have taken a similar tack. In Pennsylvania, cryptocurrency miner Stronghold Digital Mining is sourcing power from a plant that converts coal waste into electricity. In Montana, Marathon Digital Holdings is sourcing 100 percent of the electricity produced by a coal-fired power plant.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently said his company would stop accepting bitcoin as a form of payment, given the large carbon footprint of mining. Tesla would resume bitcoin transactions, he said, when “there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend.”

To supply clean electricity to its bitcoin mining operations, El Salvador is turning to geothermal power, making use of subterranean heat near the Tecapa volcano, AP reports. Daniel Álvarez, president of the Rio Lempa Hydroelectric Executive Commission, which oversees the Salvadoran plant, told AP that the mining project will grow “because we have the renewable energy resource, we have a lot of potential to continue producing energy to mine.”