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Existing facilities could be exempted from garbage burning, landfill gas ban

Bob Geiger//February 24, 2010

Existing facilities could be exempted from garbage burning, landfill gas ban

Bob Geiger//February 24, 2010

Bill Klotz)
Municipal waste-to-energy burners like the above-pictured Hennepin Energy Resource Co. (HERC) would not be legally termed as a renewable energy technology if legislation authored by state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis is approved. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Following last week’s introduction of a bill that would scrap municipal garbage burning and landfill gas as renewable energy sources, the chair of a Minnesota House of Representatives panel said existing burners may be exempted from a proposed ban.

“We make exemptions for things all the time. And this is a thing that I think can be dealt with,” said state Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, who heads the Energy Finance and Policy division of the powerful House Finance Committee.

Hilty said he “can’t think of a compelling use for [municipal] refuse burners,” or for having the public produce enough waste to feed landfills containing materials that generate methane gas — some of which are tapped by utilities to generate energy.

His comments came after the Feb. 18 introduction of H.F. 3060 by state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. That measure would delete municipal garbage burners and landfill gas from technologies that utilities can claim as sources of renewable energy.

That’s pertinent to utilities because it takes away two energy technologies specified in 2007 legislation that requires Minnesota electric utilities to produce at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2025.

Both waste-to-energy and landfill gas are considered renewable energy technologies under that legislation, which established Minnesota’s renewable energy standard.

Hornstein voted for that bill, but said Hennepin County’s 2009 proposal to increase the amount of garbage from 1,000 tons to 1,212 tons a day renewed his interest in the issue.

“To look at garbage as a renewable fuel means encouraging production of more garbage because it produces more energy,” said Hornstein, who added, “I think we need to have a real, honest conversation about what is renewable energy and what are the characteristics of renewable energy.”

Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. must generate 30 percent of power from renewable sources by 2020 from such sources as solar, wind, hydroelectric and biomass.

Hornstein’s bill caught the attention of Hennepin County, Xcel and Great River Energy, all of which either own municipal waste-to-energy burners or count on claiming energy from municipal burners as sources of renewable power or renewable credits.

No hearing has been set yet for H.F. 3060.


Meanwhile, despite hints that existing waste-to-energy trash burners could be grandfathered in if the definition of renewable energy is changes, Hornstein said he plans to pursue the bill.

“The issue for me is garbage incineration,” he said. “I believe that it would be real hard to consider that renewable.”

Lobbyists for Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. and Maple Grove-based Great River Energy said they oppose the legislation authored by Hornstein, and co-authored by Hilty and state Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis.

Major waste-to-energy facilities targeted by the bill are Hennepin Energy Resource Co. (HERC), which generates nearly 40 megawatts of energy each year, and Elk River Station, which generates 36 megawatts of power each year.

Hennepin County owns HERC, and sells 33.7 megawatts power generated by the garbage burner to Xcel Energy Inc. under a long-term power purchase agreement.

Great River Energy owns and operates Elk River Station, and also buys power produced by several landfill gas sites that could be impacted by the House measure.

Both HERC and Elk River Station burn about 365,000 tons of garbage each year.

What bothers Hornstein are characteristics of energy generated by HERC — namely a variety of hazardous materials and ash produced as HERC generates nearly 40 megawatts of energy.

“This is all part of what I’d call green-washing,” he said. “It’s this sort of linguistic sleight-of-hand. The debate that has to happen is about what truly is green energy.”

The Feb. 18 introduction of Hornstein’s bill came less than one week before Hennepin County board members discusses increasing per-ton rates paid by two waste haulers that deliver garbage to HERC Tuesday afternoons.

Scheduled to be considered Tuesday by the Hennepin County Public Works, Energy & Environment committee are increased per-ton tipping fees for municipal waste delivered to HERC.

Currently, that fee is $40 a ton. But, effective April 1, Hennepin County officials have proposed an increase to $43 for each ton of garbage tipped at HERC.

After nine months at that level, Hennepin County officials propose another $2-per-ton tipping fee increase, to $45 a ton, effective Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2011.

Garbage haulers affected by the proposed tipping fee increases are Waste Management Inc. and Allied Waste Services of North America LLC.

According to Hennepin County Board documents, the new waste management service contracts are designed to generate about $20 million a year in tipping fees.

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