Activists have been fighting the “Hennepin Energy Recovery Center” (HERC) and other garbage incinerators for decades.
But in no other US state, except maybe 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/ shut down one of our dirtiest local polluters:
Hennepin County’s HERC garbage burner is a dirty old 1980’s cash cow, located in the North Loop neighborhood in downtown Minneapolis, next to the Twins Stadium.
HERC is one of Minneapolis/ Hennepin County’s worst air polluters, and it’s air emissions permit is long-expired.
75 percent of the garbage going in is generated in Minneapolis.
The health-damaging smokestack emissions total close to 2 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, “NOx,” 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 Rep. Karen Clark and others. These maps were prominently displayed
at City 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 fancy public relations effort and loads of “alternative facts” from Hennepin County, Covanta, the MPCA, 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 (about 25% of the original garbage by weight), is toxic and is taken to a special local ash dump.
Two key problems, linked, 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 (WI). 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 it’s system, except, perhaps for purchased dirty-burner power.
We now have unusual leverage to help phase out/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.
Xcel’s purchase agreement with the HERC is estimated by the Minnesota Department of Commerce to cost about DOUBLE the cost per megawatt hour of wholesale “system” power in the Upper Midwest. So Xcel’s
involvement in burning garbage/buying garbage electricity tends to inflate electric bills as well as degrading air quality.
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. NAB 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, as intended punishment–but
really a very good thing!–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 of 2016 an anti-HERC coalition of multiple groups was loudly announced, but nothing ever came of it.
Sierra, for example, didn’t even include a HERC or Zero Waste question in it’s recent candidate questionnaire.
Recently the City rolled out a feeble “Zero Waste Plan” draft.
Candidates who have,to their credit, mentioned the HERC include Ray Dehn and Gary Schiff.
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? It’s 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. They are all skilled manipulators of
“alternative facts” in their attempts to greenwash the dirty old burner.
Hennepin County has told the Public Utilities Commission it wants to burn at the HERC for at least twenty more years.