Hennepin County must plan to close incinerator or risk $26 million for organics recycling facility
A small provision in the $1.5 billion infrastructure loan bill signed into law this spring could bring Hennepin County closer to closing its trash incinerator.
The Legislature approved $26 million to the county to build an anaerobic digester in Brooklyn Park, a long-sought-after facility that will help break down food and other organic waste. But it comes with a condition: “This credit is not available until Hennepin County submits a Hennepin Energy Recovery Center Termination Plan,” or HERC, the report says. law Project.
The condition in the bill was first reported by the Sahan Journal.
Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, said he repeatedly heard from constituents concerned about the trash burner’s operations and hoped to see it closed.
“We can’t really say what the county needs to do, but if they’re asking for a big investment from the state regarding the anaerobic digester, we have an opportunity to…address some of our neighbors’ concerns as well,” said Lee, who chairs the House Investment Committee.
In response to an interview request, county officials sent a written statement from Lisa Cerney, deputy county administrator for public works, who wrote that county staff were evaluating the legislation.
“We are disappointed with anything that has the potential to slow progress towards developing the [anaerobic] digest and confident that we will collectively find a way forward,” Cerney wrote.
The layout is a victory for environmental activists, however, who have argued for years that air pollution from the trash-burning HERC harms nearby areas where there are already many other sources of pollution, such as northern Minneapolis.
“The walls are falling,” said Nazir Khan, an organizer with the Minnesota Environmental Justice Table.
There is no specific date or timeline in the bill to shut down the facility, which handles 45% of Hennepin County’s waste, or 365,000 tons per year.
Lee said the timeline will be up to county officials and their constituents. An effective plan will also require discussions with cities that send trash to burn, he said. Most of the waste incinerated at HERC comes from the city of Minneapolis.
Khan said the lack of a firm deadline gives the county flexibility, but added that “obviously any closure plan they submit should include a date.”
Hennepin County recently released a zero waste plan to reduce 80% of its waste stream to reuse, recycle or compost. Food waste management, including with the anaerobic digestion facility, is a key part of the plan. A quarter of the waste that is burned or sent to a county landfill is organic material.
The county also faces a deadline in state law to divert 75% of its waste stream from waste disposal by 2030; currently it diverts about 39%.
“Securing state funding is critical to our ability to build the infrastructure necessary to keep pace with the growth of our biologics programs,” Cerney wrote in his statement.
The HERC also generates about 200,000 megawatts of electricity per year from the waste it burns, purchased by Xcel Energy. That’s enough to run 18,811 average US homes for a year, according to usage estimates from the US Energy Information Administration.
HERC was once considered a “renewable” energy source under state law, but that changed earlier this year when lawmakers passed a carbon-free energy standard. By 2040, electricity across Minnesota must be generated without adding global warming greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
This means HERC will not be a viable power source for Xcel by 2040. The utility has previously said it has a purchase agreement with the county through 2024 and is still planning how supply carbon-free energy to comply with the new 2040 Goal.
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