The furor over bitcoin is raging again and the environment suffers the consequences. The former Greenidge thermal power plant, located on the outskirts of Dresden, in New York, and resurrected by an investment company to mine cryptocurrencies, not only has it generated enormous controversy for polluting the atmosphere more than before, it has also taken it upon itself to turn a 12,000-year-old glacial lake into something resembling a hot tub.
Seneca Lake, located in the vicinity of this makeshift bitcoin mining plant, is experiencing a rise in its temperature due to the tens of millions of liters of hot water discharged from the plant. “The lake is so hot it looks like a jacuzzi” – has explained one of the neighbors of the area to the nbc, who were already upset when the project began.
The outrage is understandable. The plant, which in the past it produced electricity for adjoining households, it has abandoned this purpose almost completely. Now, most of the time, its turbines burn natural gas solely to generate the electricity needed in bitcoin mining, an activity that has provided its owners with a very promising economic future.
Greenidge remained abandoned and had been presumed dead until the rise of cryptocurrencies saved it from the fatal outcome. In 2014 it was acquired by the private equity firm Atlas Holdings, which invested $60 million to convert it into a natural gas plant that would deliver electricity to the area when demand soared.
However, in the three years that the renovation process lasted, the future of natural gas was blurred and the business around cryptocurrencies gained strength. That was the reason why the plant ended up becoming a cryptocurrency mining farm which, composed of 7,000 mining equipment and powered by the electricity it generates, extracts an average of 5.5 bitcoins a day.
Since then, Atlas Holdings has been increasing its aspirations and has installed thousands of mining equipment – and plans to continue installing more – producing more than 1,100 bitcoins until February 2021.
The waters of the Seneca are of sufficient quality to be treated for human consumption. In addition, they house a considerable amount of trout spawning in rivers they feed the lake. One of them is the Keuka Lake Outlet, the river where the bitcoins plant directly pours the hot water that is causing the problem.
The Keuka is known by the inhabitants of the area for being a Usual rainbow trout fishing spot, a species very sensitive to changes in temperature of its habitat. If the temperature of the lake reaches 20ºC these trout begin to be endangered, since, if reached, they would stop growing and many of them would die.
Currently, Greenidge is authorized to discharge 511 liters of water per day into the river in question, not exceeding 42º C in summer and 30º C in winter. Although the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has stated that during the last four years these temperatures have not been exceeded – the average has been 36º C in summer and 21º C in winter – the inhabitants of the area have already they have complained that the temperature of the lake has risen. However, the full study being carried out will not be completed until 2023.
Now, beyond the waters of the Seneca, the havoc on the environment is undeniable. In December 2020, operating at only 13% of capacity, bitcoin mining activity at Greenidge produced 243,103 tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide, a chemical compound that can cause everything from asthma to lung cancer, also increased tenfold.
Atlas Holdings is not the only U.S. company to give this kind of second life to a thermal power plant. the renewable energy boom has caused many of these plants to close down, but the energy they generate is tremendously useful for cryptocurrency mining. Therefore, the high price of these currencies has attracted a number of investors who are encouraged to turn them into mining farms with which to become even richer.