Bitcoin, the initial and most popular cryptocurrency, happens to be burning through the utmost amount of power and putting out the utmost greenhouse gas as a whole nation.
Current estimates set the currency’s energy application on a level with places just like the Netherlands. That is, can we say, not helpful at any given time when humanity is racing to modify to wash energy before we cook the planet.
Bitcoin’s energy demands are so high that individuals who get rich from producing its desire to pull dirty power plants out of retirement to power their operations. Earthjustice is urging regulators never to allow that to happen.
Bitcoins aren’t physical coins, so you might ask why a digital currency requires much energy?
The appeal of Bitcoin for a lot of it allows them to trust no person, bank, or government. Bitcoin is entirely decentralized. But there needs to be some system to stop fraudsters from making copies of the coins and spending them twice.
To fix this, the machine incentivizes many individuals instead of one trusted entity to devote computing capacity to validating transactions. The system is competitive, awarding new Bitcoins only to 1 “miner” who completes the validating and other tasks first, leading to an arms race of ever faster and better computer rigs. While other cryptocurrencies use not as energy, Bitcoin’s particular solution to security without trust, as it happens, is very energy-intensive.
Here is what a contemporary Bitcoin mining operation in upstate New York appears like:
That monster requires plenty of energy to run the machines and to help keep them from overheating. The cooling system for this rig uses cold water from Seneca Lake and discharges it back at 100+ degrees, killing trout and increasing harmful algal blooms. For years, Bitcoin miners have sleuthed for places to create a shop where power is cheap and the climate cool, such as China’s Inner Mongolia or the hydro-abundant Pacific Northwest.
But the mining operation pictured above went next level. They own their particular damn power plant:
Investors bought this plant in 2014. It had been a fixer-upper. Mothballed power plants lying around available tend to be dirty fossil fuel plants.
The Greenidge Generation station in New York has been built in the 1930s as a coal-fired power plant. By 2011, there was not enough demand for the costly, dirty power, and it had been shut down. After not operating for several years, the brand new owners switched their fuel to dirty gas and re-started their operations, utilizing the plant’s old pollution permits.
The plant struggled to locate the electricity demand, and the operators turned their attention instead to mining Bitcoin. Pollution started initially to skyrocket. In just twelve months, emissions of greenhouse gases increased ten-fold. The plant currently uses 19 MW of power to power 14,500 homes if it weren’t mining Bitcoin. And it plans to visit 55 MW and the capability to go to 106 MW. The plant would blow past its current pollution permit at full capacity – but that permit is up for renewal.
Earthjustice and the Sierra Club have sent a letter to regulators urging them not to allow the company, Greenidge Generation LLC, to expand the air permit and to take notice of the emerging trend of cryptocurrency miners taking over power plants and operating them 24 hours each day, seven times each week, 365 times a year. At least one different seed in the location is planning to get in on the overall game, and there are nearly 30 plants in upstate New York alone with the potential to convert to full-time Bitcoin mining. A coal plant in Montana can also be ramping back up for cryptocurrency mining.
“The aim of the letter to the New York Department of Conservation is to say it is not some random or isolated thing. Cryptocurrency is real and increasingly important, and dirty power plants are returning from the dead,” says Earthjustice attorney Mandy DeRoche. “Greenidge just gave other retired, retiring, or peaking plants a roadmap of how to accomplish it, just how to recruit investors, just how to go public on NASDAQ.”
Earthjustice has spent years fighting in public places utility commissions around the nation to make certain old, dirty power plants get pushed into retirement – and if replacement power becomes necessary, avoid dirty gas in support of clean energy. Our goal would be to hasten the day when everything is powered with 100% clean energy.
New York state features a new climate law, and DeRoche says the commitments produced in that law won’t be met if dirty power plants get resurrected and operate 24/7. That will spur legislators and regulators to clarify the regulatory gray zone that miners have exploited here with power generation that’s not delivered to the grid.
“There are lots of ways to undertake this matter, and we are exploring them,” says DeRoche. “One solution may be to require renewable generation for cryptocurrency mining, having an excess renewable generation requirement on top, so the mining is not preventing renewables from going into the grid. We truly need that clean power on the grid as fast as you can to mitigate the unequal and most harmful impacts of climate change.”