At a time when fossil fuel power plants are shutting down in favour of renewable energy, some plants in the US are getting a new lease of life to mine Bitcoin. Despite the known harmful impact on the environment, investors are pouring in money into reviving ageing fossil fuel plants.
The idled Greenidge power plant in upstate New York was bought by private equity firm Atlas Holdings and retasked to mine cryptocurrency, while the once-struggling Montana coal plant, slated to shut down in 2018, was acquired by Bitcoin mining company Marathon in late 2020 to get the power station’s electricity.
According to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, the current annual energy consumption of Bitcoins is 147.67 terawatt hour (or one trillion watts for one hour), which is more than the energy consumption of Norway and Ukraine, EcoWatch reported.
Thirst for electricity
Another controversial project that illustrates the impact of cryptocurrency on climate is the Greenidge power plant in upstate New York. The once-abandoned power plant was acquired by private equity firm Atlas Holdings in 2014 and converted into a natural gas unit. In 2020, a data centre for mining Bitcoin was set up using power from the Greenidge plant. In 2021, the company had 19 MW of mining capacity and planned to raise it to 85 MW by the end of 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported.
When the Hardin plant roared back to life, it spewed 187,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the second quarter of 2021, over 5000 percent more than was the emissions expelled in the same period in the previous year.
In the third quarter, another 206,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted, as per the data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This isn’t helping old ladies from freezing to death, it’s to enrich a few people while destroying our climate for all of us,” The Guardian quoted Anne Hedges, co-director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, as saying.
As for the Greenidge power plant, the air pollution and water runoff are likely to damage the small community in the area which depends on fresh air and clean water for tourism, agriculture and fishing in the Finger Lakes, Yvonne Taylor, vice-president of the environmental non-profit Seneca Lake Guardian, was quoted as saying by WSJ.
While climate activists criticise the rejuvenation of these old plants, Bitcoin miners claim that even the use of washing machines consume more power than Bitcoin.
“I understand the desire for some people to point bitcoin mining as the big bad boy, but on a comparison with every other industry out there, it’s insignificant,” Fred Thiel, chief executive of Marathon, said in an interview.