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Schuyler County Tables Vote On Cryptocurrency Mining Recommendation

Schuyler Crypto Resolution WEB

WATKINS GLEN, NY (WSKG) — Amid continuing calls for municipalities to consider regulations on cryptocurrency mining operations, the Schuyler County Legislature tabled its resolution Monday.

The resolution did not institute any specific regulations on crypto-mining since land-use regulations are controlled primarily on the local level. Instead, it called on the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the state legislature to address the topic.

Mark Rondinaro, who chairs the county legislature committee that brought up the resolution, moved to table the measure before any discussion, which succeeded 7-1. The legislature’s lone Democrat, Michael Lausell, was the only vote against tabling the resolution.

Rondinaro later told WSKG he wanted to wait and discuss the resolution with other municipalities before it was officially brought up for a vote.

"Schuyler County may be a place for an idea to spring, or maybe a place where it moves from, but it's really going to take the whole region and the state to make this actually possible,” Rondinaro said. “So, we want to make sure that we're actually being collegial, we're reaching out and trying to take everybody's interests into account."

Mining cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, at scale involves significant computing power. In turn that draws significant energy, which leads to the bulk of concerns in the Finger Lakes. 

Without specific land-use regulations in place, large crypto-mining operations could increase demand on electrical grids. This is a particular concern for communities with municipally-operated utilities where electricity may be less expensive, and therefore more attractive to miners which can run at scale in a small footprint.

Even though New York is pushing solar and renewable energy development, a large portion of electricity is generated from natural gas and other greenhouse gas emitters. Increased electricity demand for cryptocurrency mining could ramp this up as well.

Cryptocurrency mining particularly drew the ire of local environmental advocates in recent years as Greenidge Generation began using excess power from its plant near Dresden along Seneca Lake to mine bitcoin. Since the facility itself generates power, it does not put additional burden onto the existing grid. Greenidge is seeking local approval to expand its mining capacity. The Town of Torrey Planning Board will consider the proposal on Monday.

Reaction at some municipalities has been mixed. Last month, the Village of Watkins Glen considered a resolution supporting a moratorium to halt Greenidge’s expansion. That move failed 2-3, but village trustees requested the board consider a resolution more similar to Schuyler County’s at its next meeting.

“Greenidge recognizes that Seneca Lake is a vital part of life here and we’re grateful the Board saw that we have met every obligation we have to protect it,” Greenidge CEO Greg Irwin wrote in a press release following that vote.

While Greenidge’s facility is in neighboring Yates County, Rondinaro said the concerns there spurred interest in Schuyler

"We were approached about this issue by our environmental management council with a different angle in the beginning strictly about the Greenidge development,” Rondinaro said. “And looking at the resolution that was presented I looked and said 'well this is a much bigger issue here than just a particular project.'”

Regardless of how Schuyler County’s resolution plays out moving forward, any sweeping and thorough regulation on cryptocurrency mining will need to come from New York state. Schuyler County Planning Director Kirstin Van Horn said that would likely be the most effective avenue.

“We’re hoping that the state looks at the overall issue and decides for the greater good of New York state, should regulations be in place; or should they not be in place and this is something that needs to be regulated at the local level,” Van Horn said.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.