Remember when the site of the Elk River garbage burner was a nuclear demonstration plant?  I do, because my father worked on parts of the design for that plant, and characterization after it was operational — I played with the geiger counter as a kid, and the rest is history.  Technical difficulties at the Elk River Nuclear Station were many.  It was shut down and decommissioned in the early 1970s.  Today, that site is now a garbage incinerator.

Remember just one year ago, Xcel Energy going to the Public Utilities Commission to terminate their garbage and turkey shit burning Power Purchase Agreements?

GRE now wants to do the same, and is considering, and is likely to, shut down its Elk River garbage burning operation.  News from Elk River, the red highlights are mine, and (red comments in parens are mine).  If you get confused what’s what, click on link for original article:

Garbage project closure pondered

Great River Energy would like Elk River Resource Recovery Project to become publicly owned

The garbage inside trash cans that area residents roll down to the end of their driveways each week might be much more likely to end up in a landfill in the future.

Great River Energy’s Board of Directors will meet this week and again in August in part to consider bringing an end to the Elk River Resource Recovery Project that began in the 1980s and has been under its wing since it took it over in 2009.

The project has diverted 10 million tons of municipal solid waste from landfills and turned it into electricity instead. That has kept landfills from filling up and some from having to be sited. It has also made it possible to recover 742 million pounds of metals and more than 200 million pop cans. All this has been done while operators of the project adhere to stringent environmental standards and reduce carbon intensity (WHAT? Burning creates CO2 emissions).

“If this project were to close, the next step would be to site the next landfill (no, it is NOT binary — they apparently haven’t heard of zero waste),” said Matt Herman, the manager of the Elk River Resource Processing Plant at Great River Energy. “Nobody is going to like it.”

Officials for Great River Energy say changes in the electric power market and the challenges of a private(ANY) operator securing enough waste and revenue in the last decade have reduced the value of the project as a renewable energy provider for the company and its member cooperatives and no longer makes economic success.

Great River Energy, a nonprofit energy cooperative, lost more than $11 million last year from its energy recovery project, which produces 28 megawatts — a small part of its portfolio for its 28 cooperatives (28 MW = 14 new wind turbines, or a handful of large solar projects — if every big box and gov’t building in county had solar on roof, how many MW?). This looks to be another losing proposition for the resource recovery project. They suspect by this time of year in 2019 they will be shutting the operation down, unless they can find a way to keep it going.

“Our attempt to run this as a market-based project is no longer working,” Herman said. “We are not getting enough garbage with enough tipping fees — the dollars paid for dropping off waste — to make energy we produce reasonable for our members.

“We’re not in this to make truckloads of money. Our goal is to make electricity our members can afford.”

The project started in the mid-1980s through a public and private partnership with Anoka County and United Power Association.

Garbage project closure pondered
Municipal solid waste from Hennepin, Anoka and Sherburne counties and other nearby communities is delivered to the processing plant in Elk River where it is sorted. The plant captures steel, aluminum and items that can’t be burned and often recycles them (FYI, most things that burn ARE recyclable). The remaining refuse is used to generate electricity at the Elk River Energy Recovery Station.

For the first 20 years of the project, there was support from county governments, which would reimburse haulers for waste brought to the waste processing plant.

The project not only kept landfills from filling, but it provided 260 jobs in the three surrounding counties and a total of 360 jobs throughout Minnesota, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The Bureau and the University of Minnesota Duluth’s School of Business and Economics (FYI, Labovitz of UofM Duluth is notoriously not credible) also found the project produces an economic output of more than $50 million annually in three counties, with an added $10 million throughout other areas of the state.

When original contracts (original contracting parties were??) began expiring in 2009, Great River Energy (formerly United Power Association) stepped up to provide a bridge agreement to keep the waste processing facility up and running. Ultimately, it bought the processing plant and the Becker Ash Landfill.

It operated with subsidies from the counties it worked closest with, but those were reduced and phased out over time, Herman said.

“The last few years the processing plant has been run without public subsidy,” he said.

Great River Energy officials have been approaching local counties to see if there’s an interest in public ownership of the Resource Recovery Project, which comprises three facilities:

•The Resource Processing Plant on 165th Avenue in Elk River.

•Elk River Station, which is the steam plant along Highway 10 in Elk River.

•Becker Ash Landfill adjacent to Xcel Energy’s Sherco Plant. (Does Sherco’s ash go here as well?  Who owns it?  Why is it called “Becker Ash Landfill?)

“Those facilities have processed more than 10 million tons of garbage,” Herman said. “They have eliminated the need for three or four or five landfills from every needing to be created.(They have circumvented enacting a Zero Waste policy).

“Maybe most importantly 4 percent of the waste recovered is recycled metal which amounts to 24 million pounds of steel a year.” (Recovery  of metal is recycling, distinct from incineration of garbage.)

Of the nine waste to energy projects in the state, Great River Energy’s is the only one not publicly owned. One of them developed 2.5 years ago when Washington and Ramsey counties came together to take over a facility in Newport.(This is misleading, Xcel Energy owns the garbage burners here in Red Wing, which burns the Washington and Ramsey counties’ garbage, in addition to the Wilmarth garbage burner in Mankato.  See “Role of Wilmarth waste burning plant still contentious.“)

Great River Energy workforce operated it initially and have since been hired on as public employees.  (Of what governmental unit?)

“We had a record year for production in 2016, and it looks like we may surpass that this year,” said Zack Hanson, who is with the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Board. “So far it has been working quite well. We have had good public support and good support from the haulers.” 

Garbage project closure pondered
A view of the Elk River Resource Recovery plant from a distance.

Government has more control over the flow of garbage into a facility and with the use of tipping fees costs can be kept in line. (Misleading — how does collecting a fee influence costs?  If fees go up, costs are lower in the ratio?) Those controls were stripped from private operators, Hanson said.

Great River Energy has been met with many potential players, including officials in the counties of Sherburne, Anoka and Hennepin. (Are they letting taxpayers and those paying for garbage collection in these counties about these plans?)

Great River Energy board members will be appraised of what the reaction has been. Officials tell the Star News the reaction has been positive.

Jerry Soma, Anoka County’s administrator, told the Star News he’s not going to say much publicly at this point. He said Anoka County officials need to hear from other players, especially Hennepin County, which is the second biggest player at the table. It provided 37 percent of the waste. Anoka County provided 45 percent. Sherburne County provided 7 percent as did Ramsey County.

One significant challenge, however is in 2016 and 2017, Great River Energy only processed 260,000 tons of municipal solid waste, which is about 60,000 tons below capacity.

By tapping haulers in Wright, Scott and Ramsey, it looks like GRE could top 300,000 tons in 2018 for the first time since 2008, which GRE officials say positions the project to be a valuable asset for public owners.

“The RDF plant can make refuse-derived fuel for a very, very, very long time and that could be a bridge this community and other communities need to get the next generation of fuels,” (28 megawatts isn’t going to do much!) Herman said, noting GRE is already working on those new applications between anaerobic digestion, gasification, organics recycling and making ethanol out of garbage. (Incineration delays movement towards Zero Waste.)

Great River Energy would like to transfer ownership of all three facilities and continue operating the facility under a management, operations and maintenance agreement with the new owner or owners. (Of course, because it’s a money losing proposition.) Officials from Great River Energy say under public ownership, the Resource Recovery Project would be able to operate at capacity with appropriate tipping fees to recover all costs and potentially generate revenue. (What a deal!  Why would any local government choose to get into this?)

“For the last several years rural electric cooperative members have been subsidizing metropolitan waste management,” Herman said. “That’s a challenge we have to remedy. We have to find the right people.” (I would hope that looking at having to pay, the counties would double down on reduction of waste, rather than writing a check to make it disappear.)

ZERO WASTE NOW!

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and today’s the deadline for Comments for the Power Plant Siting Act Annual Hearing:

PPSA_Overland Comment FINAL

And there ya have it.  Until next year…

Everybody, get out your HERC Hanky and wave it for the home team!!!

Last Thursday was a fairly short, but quite intense, day at the Public Utilities Commission.  First up was Freeborn Wind (go here and search for docket 17-332), and its application for a transmission line for the project plus more.  We did get the “proceeding” process and not a summary report. That’s good, not a huge deal, but enough that it means we get some extra process in the transmission routing docket, meaning an ALJ drafted Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendation (not just a report), and the opportunity to file Exceptions to the ALJ Recommendation. In those exceptions, we can also ask for public comment and oral argument to the Commission.

Second on the agenda was the HERC Power Purchase Agreement, and Xcel Energy’s HERC PPA Petition to cut the rate (go here and search for docket 17-532).

Bottom line, after much deliberation, and a 10 minute break (what is it they do back there???), here’s the decision option they chose, as framed in the Staff Briefing Papers_201711-137262-01:

Way to go, Mr. Alan Muller!

Seems to me that but for our squwaking, it would have eased on through.  But the question remains, where were all the folks who supposedly had committed to shut down HERC?

Primary documents were posted earlier here:

HERC at PUC on Thursday

November 13th, 2017

This Thursday, the Xcel Energy Petition to slash the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center Power Purchase Agreement.  It’s a pretty twisted thing…

Read all about it — check out the Public Utilities Commission docket:

Click “Search Documents” HERE and search for docket 17-532

Here are the Staff Briefing Papers_201711-137262-01

For example, Commerce noted that the power wasn’t needed:

And the PUC staff seems to have heard this, which notes the capacity surplus in the Briefing Papers above:

Followed by this:

Ummmmmmmm, it’s both!

And it gets curiouser and curiouser… Again from the Briefing Papers:

And some validation of concerns raised:

So what will the Commission do?  It seems their knickers are in a bunch and it’s not at all clear…

Here’s the Neighbors for Clean Air page for HERC:

HERC page and links via Wayback Machine

And check out Alan Muller’s powerpoint from the successful challenge to attempt to increase garbage burning:

HERC_Power Point

There was an announcement in April, 2016, of  the “HERC Clean Power Plan Coalition” with multiple groups joining to shut down HERCSierra Club North Star Chapter, MPIRG, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Community Power, St. Joan of Arc, etc.

HERC?  SHUT IT DOWN!

 

 

Activists have been fighting against the “Hennepin Energy Recovery Center” (HERC) and other garbage incinerators for decades.

But in no other U.S. state, except perhaps Florida, does the garbage incineration industry have its hooks so deep into government and politics, so it’s been a long struggle.

We need to demand that our Minneapolis mayoral and City Council candidates pledge now to phase out or shut down one of our dirtiest local polluters.

Hennepin County’s HERC garbage burner is a dirty old 1980s cash cow, located in the North Loop neighborhood in downtown Minneapolis, next to the Twins Stadium.

HERC is one of Minneapolis and Hennepin County’s worst air polluters. About 75 percent of the garbage going in is generated in Minneapolis.

The health-damaging smokestack emissions total close to 1.5 million pounds per year and include dioxin (a major carcinogen and key component in the toxic Agent Orange herbicide), mercury, lead, fine particles, carbon monoxide, other heavy metals, and dozens of other hazardous pollutants. Depending on weather conditions these emissions impact many city neighborhoods and beyond. These poisons cause or exacerbate asthma, bronchitis, strokes, heart attacks,cancer, and many other serious health problems.

Minneapolis residents, especially poorer residents, are the main victims of HERC air pollution, as has been shown by the maps produced by state Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis) and others. These maps were prominently displayed at Minneapolis Planning Commission meetings and at City Council meetings during deliberation and rejection of expanded HERC burning, and are available on line and from Clark.

Despite a sophisticated public relations effort and an abundance of “alternative facts” by Hennepin County, Covanta, and others, our burned garbage doesn’t magically disappear and isn’t “converted into electricity.” Some call incineration “landfilling in the sky.”

The remaining ash is toxic and is taken to a special local ash dump.

Two key problems, which are connected, obstruct progress of Minneapolis towards being a truly (as opposed to rhetorically) clean, healthy and sustainable city.

One is the chokehold that Xcel Energy has on officials and policies, leading to ever-increasing electric rates (while the wholesale price of electricity drops) and near-meaningless “partnerships” rather than real moves towards cleaner energy.

The other is our friend the HERC.

On the face of things the key bad actor behind the HERC is Hennepin County, owner of the burner and joined at the hip to the garbage incineration industry.

But the less obvious nexus of these two evils is that Xcel itself is in the garbage burning business, owning and operating dirty old burners in Red Wing, Mankato and French Island in Wisconsin. We don’t know of any other major electric utility in the garbage burning business, except for Great River Energy, also in Minnesota.

Xcel’s three company-owned burners very likely produce the most expensive and unhealthy power on its system, except, perhaps for purchased dirty-burner power.

We now have unusual leverage to help phase out or shut down HERC:

The HERC generates a little electricity, which is sold to Xcel under a “Power Purchase Agreement.” Xcel Energy has opened a docket at the Public Utilities Commission, (E002/M-17-532) for consideration of extending the HERC Power Purchase Agreement – which expires at the end of 2017 – at a much lower price.

Our leverage at this time

The HERC “PPA” with Xcel expires at the end of 2017. Since electricity sales are a significant revenue source for garbage burner operators, we have here a great opportunity to save money and improve public health by allowing the HERC PPA with Xcel to expire at the end of December.

As noted above, there is a docket about this before the MN Public Utilities Commission. I have submitted comments and Neighbors Against the Burner has petitioned to intervene. Xcel’s proposal is to extend the contract but at a reduced rate. Neighbors against the Burner is looking towards no extension “at any rate.” This would be a strong push towards a HERC shutdown.

Four years ago, before the last cycle of Minneapolis municipal elections, that proposal to burn more garbage at the HERC became an election issue. The Sierra Club, MPIRG (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group) and others worked doggedly against the expansion scheme with the result that after the elections it was clear that there were not the votes on the City Council to approve more burning.

A mayor was elected who said she opposed more burning and supported Zero Waste objectives. The expansion proposal was withdrawn, resentfully, by Hennepin County, which told Minneapolis to collect “organics.”

Now, however, we are in another Mpls election cycle and the silence about the HERC and better waste management is deafening.

In April 2016 an anti-HERC coalition of multiple groups was loudly announced, but nothing ever came of it.

Sierra Club, for example, didn’t even include a HERC or Zero Waste question in its candidate recent questionnaire.

Recently the city rolled out a feeble “Zero Waste Plan” draft.

As election day draws near, what do the rest of the mayoral and council candidates have to say about HERC, Xcel, “Zero Waste” and a truly green, sustainable and healthy Minneapolis?

What’s happened? Hard to be sure, but:

Both Xcel and Hennepin County are extraordinarily effective at lobbying and getting their way, as is Covanta, the contract operator of the HERC. Some would say they are all skilled manipulators of “alternative facts” in their attempts to greenwash a dirty old dinosaur of a garbage burning plant, a relic of the 1980s.  Hennepin County has told the Public Utilities Commission in wants to burn at the HERC for at least twenty more years.

As with many issues today, now is the time to stand up. Now, before the election, is the time to let candidates know what you think and for candidates to declare what they think.