Torrey Planning Board approves Greenidge site plan

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

Greenidge bitcoin expansion passed by super-majority

(Correction: Jacob Welch is not the attorney for Seneca Lake Guardian, as stated in an earlier version of this article.)

DRESDEN – After the disapproval of the Yates County Planning Board in a split vote in January of Greenidge Generation’s plan for expanding its data mining operation near Dresden, the site plan application was sent back to the Town of Torrey Planning Board for a second SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) examination and vote. That approval was finally granted at a meeting Monday, April 19.

Over 60 people, many from outside the town or Yates County, attended the April 19 meeting of the Town of Torrey Planning Board to state their support or disapproval of a site plan that allows Greenidge Generation to expand Bitcoin mining. The plan was approved in a 4-1 vote.

That meeting was attended by a passionate group of environmentalist opponents who believe the electric generation plant’s cooling system for the single operational turbine generator, left from Greenidge’s original four, harms Seneca Lake by raising the water temperature, contributing to harmful algal blooms (HABs). The objections to Greenidge from a combined group of lakefront owners and environmental groups like the Sierra Club 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 group’s main objection; however, 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.

Many of the attendees have been sending emails to town, county, and state authorities 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.

Despite repeated statements from the Planning Board members that they only had the authority to approve the site plan, and that neither they nor the Town Board have any authority to shut down the Greenidge plant or regulate how they use the electricity they generate, comments and objections from the group continued for well over an hour.

“We can’t regulate what the state has already regulated,” explained Planning Board Chairman David Granzin, referring to the DEC water and emission permits and the Public Service Commission.

Several local residents spoke up in favor of Greenidge, citing good -paying jobs and the improvement of the local economy. “Their success leads to our success,” said a representative of City Hill Construction who have been contractors on several projects at the Greenidge campus. “They’re good people who do it right,” he concluded.

Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association President Jacob Welch, an attorney, warned the Planning Board that it would be facing further suits from the group if the site plan was approved. “I’m just trying to save you money,” he claimed. He and Geneva City Councilor Ken Camera asked the board to table the vote for one or two months until further studies could be done and talks with Greenidge could continue.

Granzin stated the board has a duty to reply to applications in a timely manner, and this had been dragging on for over a year. In the end, Granzin and board members George Dowse, Floyd Hoover, and Robert Miller voted yes, while board member Ellen Campbell voted no. Campbell was also the only no vote on the SEQR negative declaration, consistent with her past record on Greenidge. 

Ironically, most of the opponents left the meeting before the vote took place just after 9 p.m.

Saturday, April 17, a group of about 50 environmental activists staged a protest march from Dresden along Route 14 to the gates of the Greenidge power plant.
Saturday, April 17, a group of about 50 environmental activists staged a protest march from Dresden along Route 14 to the gates of the Greenidge power plant.

The company now has the green light to begin the expansion of its 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.

The four buildings are to have concrete slab foundations, and positioned end to end on the south side of the old west parking lot.

“We thank the Town of Torrey Planning Board for its strong vote of approval last night,” said Dale Irwin, President and CEO of Greenidge Generation. “The Board’s professionalism during the process of considering our application was evident from day one, and it led to a result where the law, and the facts, were what mattered most. This Site Plan approval is a key step in helping Greenidge continue to transform our former coal-fired facility into a truly best-in-class, vertically integrated power generation and Bitcoin mining operation.

“This project will not only operate squarely within our existing environmental permits and local ordinances but will produce more high-tech jobs, more tax revenues for our local governments and more dollars to local business through our partnership. We’re finishing the process to start construction soon.”

Not long before the meeting the DEC released the following statement regarding Greenidge:

“As part of DEC’s aggressive oversight of this facility and their compliance with our stringent regulatory requirements, DEC is closely monitoring the operations of Greenidge Generation, a bitcoin mining operation in Torrey, New York, and current proposals for its expansion. In addition to ensuring continued compliance with DEC’s current permits for the facility, DEC will ensure a comprehensive and transparent review of ​its proposed air permit renewals with a particular focus on the potential climate change impacts and consistency with the nation-leading emissions limits established in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. As the greenhouse gas emissions associated with this type of facility may be precedential and have broader implications beyond New York’s borders, DEC will consult with the U.S. EPA, the Climate Action Council, and others as we thoroughly evaluate​ the complex issues involved.”