The state Department of Environmental Conservation is allowing Greenidge Generation Holdings Inc., a crypto mining and power plant facility on Seneca Lake, an additional 3 1/2 months to install wire screens to the lake's organisms.
The state had given the company five years to complete the work, but the department modified the plant's State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit last week three days before it expired.
"We are exploring every legal, potential recourse available to us," Seneca Lake Guardian Vice President Yvonne Taylor said.
Greenidge was required to install the infrastructure to protect the fish from the plant's water intake pipes.
Activists want Greenidge Generation to cease production until the upgrades are completed.
The facility submitted final plans to complete the work to the DEC in March. A public comment period followed this summer, ending Sept. 1.
The DEC authorized the work last week on Sept. 27 — three days before the SPDES permit expired.
Greenidge representatives say the company was held up waiting on the state's approval.
Advocates say the company intentionally filed in the spring to miss the original Sept. 30 cutoff.
"Greenidge dragged its heels and failed to meet that deadline," Taylor said. "And it was only at the 11th hour ... that Greenidge gets a pass from the DEC, even though they're out of compliance with their own permit."
Greenidge has spent $6 million over the last five years to install infrastructure upgrades, like variable speed drives on its cooling water pumps, as well as conducting long studies, sampling and plans that needed final DEC approval, according to the company.
"We've consistently worked to ensure that Seneca Lake, which our team enjoys and values as much as anyone, and its aquatic life are fully protected," according to a statement from Greenidge Generation on Wednesday. "The final phase of compliance with our SPDES permit involves the installation of additional protections like wedge wire screens, which represent the Best Available Technology. Our application was submitted in March and we’re awaiting final regulatory approvals for that project; we will promptly complete the installation of our screens upon receipt of those approvals.
"We look forward to finishing our work in the weeks ahead.”
DEC also required Greenidge get additional permits to ensure water quality protection during the work to protect nearby habitats.
Advocates are concerned the state is making backroom deals with Greenidge.
"...It looks like one hand of the D-E-C doesn't know what the other hand is doing," Taylor said.
DEC modified Greenidge's water permit "using the agency’s authority to provide additional time to complete the work under stringent DEC oversight. DEC will continue to require compliance with all permits while work is underway," according to the department.
Greenidge must complete installing the screens to reduce the impacts of its cooling water intake system on Seneca Lake's aquatic life by Jan. 20, 2023.
"DEC continues to require compliance with all permits while work at Greenidge Generating, LLC is underway to ensure the continued protection of Seneca Lake, including enhanced protections for fish and their habitat," according to a statement from DEC on Wednesday. "DEC subjects all applications for environmental permits to a transparent and rigorous review process to protect public health and the environment. As such, the facility is required under its existing State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit to install wedge wire screens at the facility to prevent fish mortality."
DEC originally granted Greenidge's SPDES permit when the facility operated as a peaker plant. Now, Greenidge primarily produces its own power with fracked gas to mine Bitcoin for private profit.
Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, a Democrat from Ithaca, says the plant missed an initial deadline to have the screen installed several years ago in addition to the water permit that was supposed to expire.
"You didn't do what you're told — you should be penalized for that," Kelles said. "We are asking that they stop operations while they're doing the intervention."
Technology and the best practices to help the surrounding ecosystem have changed since Greenidge's permit was first issued in 2017. The best technology to protect the lake should be reassessed, the assemblywoman said.
Greenidge employs dozens of people in the Finger Lakes region. Kelles stressed the plant's impacts on the lake impact the region's overall tourism industry and related agritourism work, like at surrounding wineries and small businesses, that employ about 60,000 people.
"That's the context that has to be considered," she added.
In June, the DEC denied Greenidge's application to renew its air permit because of its greenhouse gas emissions that, amid cryptocurrency mining, are not in keeping with the state's climate emission goals.
DEC will continue to require Greenidge to comply with all permit requirements through its operations to protect public health and the environment, according to the department.