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Greenidge bitcoin expansion plan back to Torrey

John Christensen
The Chronicle-Express

Yates County Planning Board split vote on disapproval of expanded data mining near Dresden

The old west parking lot at the Greenidge power plant near Dresden is the proposed location for four new buildings to house Bitcoin mining computer processors.

PENN YAN – The Jan. 28 meeting of the Yates County Planning Board via Zoom was the most highly attended of any meeting in recent years. In total over 70 participants logged into the meeting, most having been drawn by a single application -- a site plan review from the Town of Torrey for Greenidge Generation.

Greenidge seeks to expand its existing bitcoin mining operation with four new buildings on the west side of its electric generation plant. Each of the single-story buildings will house computer servers used in bitcoin trading -- a form of computer generated cryptocurrency used largely in high value and international transactions.

Like the existing servers in the power plant itself, the ones in the new buildings will be powered by the single operational turbine generator left from Greenidge’s original four. The four buildings are to have concrete slab foundations, and positioned end to end on the south side of the old west parking lot.

The last operational generator of the original four at Greenidge power plant.

County Planner Daniel Long explained that under New York state's constitutional “home rule” principal, code regulation and authority does rest with the town, and that the Town of Torrey Planning Board had already approved the site plan prior to the county’s approval.

Torrey’s Planning Board Chairman and County Planning Board Member David Granzin remarked that the buildings are more than 500 feet from State Route 14 as well as from the Dresden village limits, and therefore did not actually have to come to the county.

A bank of the existing and operational computer processors inside the Greenidge plant

Many of the attendees had sent emails objecting to the operation of the plant for bitcoin mining rather than supplying electricity to the utility grid. Greenidge does both, and its attorney, Kevin McCauliffe, explained that a maximum of 66 megawatts of the plant’s 106 MW capacity would be used for data mining.

The objections from a combined group of lakefront owners and environmental groups like the Sierra Club to Greenidge began when the old coal fired plant was purchased by Atlas Holdings six years ago and converted to cleaner-burning natural gas. That conversion also eliminated the need for ash disposal at the Lockwood Farm site nearby.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s permit to withdraw water from Seneca Lake for cooling the generator and return it to the Keuka Lake Outlet and eventually to Seneca Lake is the groups main objection, claiming that the warmed water will contribute to blue-green algae blooms. Potential noise from the servers was also raised as an objection, as were fish screens on the intake pipe in the lake. Required studies on all these matters have either been completed or are in process. The group has filed several lawsuits attempting to shut down the plant. All have failed in court.

The objectors requested the Planning Board disapprove the site plan for the added buildings, demanding a study be done on the impact on the lake. Long explained that the County Planning Board has no power to require another study on environmental impact of the cooling water because the DEC permits are already in place.

After two Planning Board members stated that the application is just a site plan review that has no county-wide impact and they didn’t see any reason they could reject it, Granzin stated that the Torrey Planning Board had been “wresting with this for over a year,” and that all the DEC permits to operate the plant were in place. “I don’t see how we can reject it,” said Granzin.

Nevertheless, County Planning Board Member Sarah Vestal, who had previously seconded a motion to table the matter, withdrew that second and offered her own motion to disapprove, citing a negative impact on the county. The board split with five voting for the motion, three against, one abstention, and one late absence by a member who left the meeting. Many in the group of objectors in the online meeting could be heard applauding the decision.

”The fact it didn’t devolve into a shouting match was good. Everyone kept it civil and professional for the most part. The Board wanted to assure the public that their concerns were listened to and considered and I believe that point was made,” said Long.

Dale Irwin, CEO of Greenidge Generation, issued a statement in response, saying, “The County’s view last night is a non-binding advisory opinion on a proposal that had already been approved by a supermajority 4-1 vote by the Town of Torrey Planning Board. We respectfully disagree with the County Board’s assessment of the issues and it is the Town Planning Board which will make the final determination on any site plan application.”

With the county board’s disapproval, the final decision now goes back to the Torrey Planning Board, which would have to pass it by supermajority; a majority plus one. That board next meets March 15.

The old employee parking lot where the four new buildings are proposed.