The Hennepin County Board met last Thursday to discuss what it will take to close the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, or HERC, sometime between 2028 and 2040.

In order to make that happen, Hennepin County must take rapid, aggressive action to increase recycling and composting, add renewable energy sources, and find other natural resource and climate funding sources, all to offset what would be lost with HERC’s closure, according to a 39-page briefing presented during the meeting.

The briefing, titled "reinventing the county's solid waste system," said the Minnesota Legislature will need to act to ensure these and other steps happen before the waste-to-energy facility closes in the North Loop.

Recommendations for this year’s legislative session include earmarking additional SCORE funding for zero-waste programs, banning recyclable and organic materials from landfills while mandating recycling and composting participation, and funding a recycling recovery facility to remove recyclable items from trash, which could cost up to $500 million. County policy can help advance some of these efforts as well.

Built in 1989 near the future site of Target Field, HERC burns trash from across Hennepin County the uses the steam to create energy, some of which is sold to Xcel Energy.

Last year, Minnesota legislators passed a landmark climate bill that effectively set a closure deadline for HERC by mandating 100% renewable electricity generation by 2040 and removing HERC's longtime designation as a source of renewable energy.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

There’s pressure on both sides of the issue; from those who want HERC closed as soon as possible, and those who caution that a hasty closure could do more harm than good.

Environmental justice advocates want the hulking trash incinerator closed even sooner than 2028, pointing to an exhaust plume big enough to cause localized “industrial effect” snow on cold, damp days. They've argued for years that emissions from HERC disproportionately harm residents of color in north Minneapolis, which is often downwind of its exhaust.

Then there are suburban officials who are accustomed to sending trash to HERC, including Bloomington’s mayor, and other stakeholders who are worried about replacing the electricity generated by the facility.

Commissioner Angela Conley told the Sahan Journal that she's hopeful that mayors across Hennepin County will support the board's call for new laws to make the HERC closure timeline realistic.

HERC currently burns nearly half of Hennepin County’s trash that’s not composted or recycled. The rest goes to suburban landfills, mostly outside of Hennepin County. Those landfills could be overwhelmed by an earlier closure of HERC, especially without a dramatic countywide increase in composting or recycling, and in turn divert more trash to landfills in greater Minnesota. Ultimately, that would likely increase the cost and carbon footprint of Hennepin County waste disposal, neither of which the board wants.

HERC’s closure could also negatively affect the economy throughout downtown Minneapolis and the Twin Cities.

Roughly 50 jobs would be lost if the facility shutters, and independent trash haulers are “very concerned their business models are challenged without HERC,” according to the briefing.

The closure effort is further complicated by the county’s decision this month to abandon plans for an anaerobic digester in Brooklyn Park, as detailed by the Star Tribune. That facility would have processed thousands of tons of organic waste annually and produced biogas — an organic fuel similar to natural gas — for use in CenterPoint Energy’s municipal gas system. Multiple publicly- and privately-owned digesters are expected to serve the region in the coming years, the county said. But the timing is unclear, as is whether the planned facilities will accept waste that would have gone to HERC.

The Hennepin County Board expects staff to submit a more detailed HERC closure plan in early February. Once the state Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 12, the board also expects to start lobbying for bills that move the state toward a zero-waste future, per the Sahan Journal.