OPINION

GUEST ESSAY: Let's hear the truth about Greenidge

Robert Schwarting, guest essayist

Currently, the definition and use of the word true or truth is in question. Opposition groups cite wildly different facts or reports as the truth. It has become a national illness, but we have to look no further than local issues to see this played out. When it gets this close, it becomes something that we have to address.

Republican Election Commissioner Robert Schwarting

England’s first Poet Laureate, John Dryden, is known for saying, “Truth is never to be expected from authors whose understanding is warped with enthusiasm." The national news bears this out, and regrettably we can observe this happening right here.

There may not be a better quote to capture what we have seen from the handful of opponents of Greenidge Generation, the former coal-fired power plant in Dresden. It seems to me that for the past nine months, really for the past six years or more, a small but boisterous group has waged a campaign against Greenidge. What is remarkable about this effort is not the enthusiasm behind it but rather the extraordinary lack of concern for the truth in carrying out this advocacy.

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.

I applaud The Chronicle-Express for not publishing the falsehoods that have been reported in local, state, and national media, as well as social media. Here are just a few examples of the misleading information that has been circulated:

A Facebook post by Seneca Lake Guardian on Aug. 31 refers to “Greenidge's new business model of reviving old or retired fossil fuel burning plants to make cryptocurrency.” This is misleading. Greenidge resumed operations in 2017 and did not begin a small pilot Bitcoin mining operation with full state approval until 2019. The post calls Greenidge “… a fracked gas peaker-plant designed to provide energy to the local community at times of peak energy usage.” False. Greenidge was permitted by the State of New York to resume electricity-generating operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 365 days a year. It has to our knowledge never been – or requested to be – a peaker plant. Greenidge sent a letter to SLG (on June 5, 2021, with a copy sent to this newspaper and others) outlining the facts. But the false public statements just continue.

The Facebook post says, “… and because it’s set up to operate 'behind the meter,' it completely evades Cuomo’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New York State.” Why, then, did New York State DEC say on April 17, “… in addition to ensuring continued compliance with DEC's current permits … 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.”

Another longtime opponent famously claimed on national media that Greenidge’s Bitcoin operation was damaging Seneca Lake: “The lake is so warm you feel like you're in a hot tub.” This source tried unsuccessfully to walk this laughable quote back once it came under scrutiny. The sensationalized comment was picked up by other news outlets and spread widely. Public data shows that the water temperatures in Seneca Lake over the prior 30 days averaged a non-hot tub like 67 degrees, and that the amount of water Greenidge lawfully uses to make electricity amounted to precisely 0.0032% of the total amount of water in the Lake.

The same neighbor tweeted that Greenidge is “… operating on decades-old permits and wreaking environmental harm on the Finger Lakes region.” The air and water permits governing Greenidge’s operation today were issued upon resumption of operations after ending the use of coal-fired power. That was a few years ago, not decades ago, and they are all available for the public to review.

Moreover, there is simply no evidence Greenidge is wreaking harm on the Finger Lakes. In fact, the State has repeatedly said the facility operates in full accordance with its permits.

Finally, groups such as Earth Justice and the Sierra Club have used similar tactics, including, “All power produced by Greenidge serves the bitcoin data mining center exclusively and does not reach the grid, i.e., Greenidge operates behind-the-meter.” Greenidge has publicly stated that it sent over 60% of its power to the Grid in 2020 -- after commencing its lawful Bitcoin mining operation onsite. It continues to send power to the Grid for homes and businesses today.

You get the point; there doesn’t seem to be much truth in these news-catching statements.

Greenidge isn’t draining all the water from Seneca Lake; it is still there the last time I checked. They are not using lake water to cool computers; they use ventilation for that. While they create lots of new jobs, they are not seeking to expand their power generation capacity in Dresden. They are not opposed by local government; in fact, the opposite is true. The Town of Torrey and others have repeatedly expressed public support for Greenidge.

In my opinion, this publication has reported the news about Greenidge’s operation fairly, accurately, and without bias toward either side – for several years. Reporters and editors have read and covered press releases, followed the social media commentary and broader media coverage closely, researched issues and monitored governmental action regarding the facility. Believing all sides should be heard, the Chronicle-Express has published many letters to the editor opposing Greenidge. That’s what readers expect from a local newspaper.

I don’t expect The Chronicle-Express to take sides in any honest debate. That is not the role of media.

I do, however, hope the newspaper continues to condemn the tactics of those who have intentionally, repeatedly misled the public about Greenidge.

Despite what Dryden said many centuries ago, we’d sure appreciate a little truth from those who "enthusiastically" oppose Greenidge. It is long overdue.

Robert Schwarting is a Yates County Board of Elections Commissioner, and was formerly the Yates County Planner,  Executive Director of the Yates County IDA, and CEO of the Western Finger Lakes Solid Waste Management Authority.