Elk River garbage-burning power plant to close

Great River Energy says it will close a plant in Elk River that converts trash into energy after failing to find a buyer willing to take it over.

The Elk River Resource Recovery Project is about 30 miles northwest of Minneapolis. It includes a plant where solid waste is processed into fuel, a power plant that burns the fuel to generate energy and a landfill for leftover ash.

Great River Energy has owned the power plant since 1989, and bought the processing plant and landfill in 2010. It employs 84 people.

The plant has been financially unsustainable for years due to low electricity prices and less garbage coming in, said Therese LaCanne, Great River spokesperson.

Great River announced in July that it would sell the plant unless a buyer stepped forward. LaCanne said the company talked to several counties about purchasing it.

But the decision to close the plant became final on Tuesday after the Sherburne County board of commissioners decided not to pursue ownership.

Sherburne officials reached out to several other counties, including Anoka and Hennepin, about partnering on the project without success, said board chair Lisa Fobbe. Sherburne County only provides about 5 percent of the Elk River plant's waste, she said.

"We're really a little fish in this big pond of solid waste," Fobbe said. "In the end, we just realized that it wasn't anything Sherburne County would be able to take on by ourselves."

Fobbe said it wasn't an easy choice, because the plant's 84 employees will lose their jobs.

"When you're dealing with people's jobs and lives, it's not something that I or we take lightly," she said. "It was just a really, really difficult decision, but something that in the end we had to do."

LaCanne said Great River will provide severance pay and financial planning services to the employees. Great River Energy's other facilities in Elk River, including a peaking power plant and office, will continue to operate, she said.

Fobbe said the waste that had been going to the Elk River plant likely will end up in landfills, since it's up to individual haulers to decide where to take their garbage and landfilling is the cheapest option. Some could go to other garbage-burning plants in Minnesota, like the Pope-Douglas waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria.