TORREY — As Greenidge Generation officials tout the installation of screens on a Seneca Lake intake pipe to protect aquatic life, the company’s most vocal opponent is criticizing the time it took and the technology used.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Greenidge President Dale Irwin announced that the installation of wedge wire screens at the plant has been completed. He said the company invested more than $6 million and five years in the project, which he asserted meets or exceeds state and federal water standards.
“On behalf of our team, and the dozens of union members who got the job done, we’re proud of the time, energy, effort and financial investment it took to get the wedge wire screens installed to further protect the lake we all love,” Irwin said. “Our team is all from this area, and most, like me, grew up with this lake as central to their lives, and we care deeply about the health of Seneca Lake. After 80 years of this facility taking in water from different owners, we are thrilled to be the company to add this protection and deliver on a promise we made when we first decided to invest in Yates County.”
In October, the state Department of Environmental Conservation gave Greenidge until Jan. 20 to install screens on the intake pipe to prevent “fish mortality.” The project is part of Greenidge’s application for a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The DEC continues to review that application.
At the time, Maureen Wren, the DEC’s director of media relations, said Greenidge is required under its existing permit to install “best technology available” wedge wire screens at the facility. Greenidge obtained an Article 15 permit (excavation and fill in navigable waters), along with a permit to ensure water quality while the work was being done.
Another DEC spokesperson said Thursday that the agency has received the required notice that Greenidge installed the cylindrical wedge wire screens. The DEC will be doing an onsite inspection to ensure compliance.
Greenidge harvests lake water to cool the turbines used to generate the electricity needed to run thousands of high-speed computers involved in the cryptocurrency mining process, as well as supplying power to the electrical grid. The water is discharged, at a slightly higher temperature, into the Keuka Lake Outlet near Dresden.
Greenidge officials said work on the screen project began in 2017, shortly after the company received a water discharge permit from the DEC. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also was involved.
Seneca Lake Guardian, an environmental group long opposed to Greenidge’s bitcoin operation, claimed the company could have installed the screens years earlier. Yvonne Taylor, the organization’s vice president, said Greenidge also should have done more studies on preventing mercury and other contaminants from being dredged from the lake bottom during the construction and installation process.
“As Greenidge’s stock price continues to plummet, they’re boasting that they’re installing less-than-optimal technology after waiting until the eleventh hour,” Taylor said. “They were given five years to install protective screens and they dragged their heels until their permit expired — it’s ridiculous.”
Taylor said the “best technology available” for the screens was based on 2010 studies. She claimed the screens just installed will only be 77% effective despite 100% effective technology — closed-cycle cooling — being available.
“Greenidge already lost its air permit, and it’s currently on the edge of bankruptcy. So now they’re boasting that after five years of blending our fish and kicking up mercury, they’ve finally met the baseline requirements of their water permit?” Taylor said. “Please, if Greenidge really cared about the lake, they would install the best available technology, not these wedge wire screens that are only 77% effective. The fact is, Greenidge is a failing company desperate to squeeze every last dime out of our community before they go broke, and they don’t care who or what they hurt along the way.”
Greenidge officials countered by saying the screen installation was a highly regulated process and the company could not do anything without state and federal approvals. Officials said they started the process in 2017 and hit every deadline set by the state, noting they could only begin construction after state and federal approvals were granted. That did not happen until last fall.
Greenidge disputed Taylor’s statement that the SPDES permit has expired, and noted the DEC determines what the “best available technology” is and said the California-based manufacturer of the screen system called it one of the most comprehensive systems in the world.
“We’ve all seen and read ridiculous claims from opponents on this topic, but the proof is here and indisputable — the screens are in and we spent the money and made the effort to get it done,” Irwin said. “We look forward to whatever our opposition’s next false panic campaign is and shooting that down as well.”
Greenidge’s release also included comments from local officials, including Yates County Legislature Chairwoman Leslie Church, town of Torrey Supervisor Peter Martini, and Dresden Mayor Bill Hall.
“The installation of the wedge wire screens represents a major step toward protecting our aquatic wildlife and speaks to the commitment Greenidge has made to Yates County,” Church said. “Greenidge is proof positive that we can create economic growth for our county and provide quality jobs while protecting our environmental treasurers. We are grateful to Greenidge for their five-year effort to make these screens a reality, and thank them for their ongoing support of our friends, neighbors and businesses.”
“Greenidge Generation has accomplished something that hasn’t been done for more than 80 years of operations and water intake at the facility: installing state-of-the-art screens to further protect the health and well-being of our aquatic life,” Martini added.