The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, pictured in April 2023, is widely known as the HERC and manages 365,000 tons of trash each year—about 45 percent of all waste produced in the county. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Hennepin County commissioners took a significant step toward shuttering a controversial trash incinerator Tuesday by formally asking staff to develop a plan for closure between 2028 and 2040. 

The move toward closing the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, widely known as the HERC, comes after years of community activism and recent actions by the Minnesota Legislature to pressure the county into shutting down the incinerator, which burns trash to create energy in downtown Minneapolis. 

HERC critics campaigned for an earlier shutdown date of 2025. They say the incinerator’s emissions contribute to health issues downtown and in north Minneapolis, a predominantly Black community. 

The unanimously approved resolution calls for county staff to submit a report in February 2024 with options on how to close the HERC on various timelines between 2028 and 2040. 

Commissioner Angela Conley said she wants to see a plan on the early end of that range, one that could shutter the facility within the next five years. 

“2040 is just unacceptable. I’ve heard from several constituents that it is just too long of a timeframe to wait,” Conley said. 

The Legislature’s 2023 bonding bill mandated that the county come up with a plan to close the HERC in order to receive state funding for an organics recycling facility. The state’s new law calling for 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2040 also declared that the HERC could no longer be considered a source of renewable energy.

County commissioners said Tuesday that the state and cities across the county will need to contribute to help the transition away from the HERC, which processes about 45 percent of Hennepin County’s trash. More than 20 state legislators signed a letter committing to assisting in the transition, according to County Board Chair Irene Fernando, who represents the area surrounding the HERC.

The incinerator currently processes about 45 percent of Hennepin County’s trash into energy for use in downtown Minneapolis. 

Fernando said she wants a new renewable energy source to replace the energy currently created at the HERC, which generates enough electricity to power about 25,000 homes and provides steam heat for parts of downtown Minneapolis. 

About 75 percent of the trash burned at the HERC comes from Minneapolis, with city businesses contributing around half of the 365,000 tons incinerated each year. The county’s resolution calls for robust engagement with Minneapolis and other cities on how to manage their trash moving forward. 

“We need to be working with each other to ensure that each partner and each player is working as boldly and aggressively as we can to meet the zero waste and climate action goals, as well as to meet the racism as a public health crisis declaration,” Fernando said.  

The county formally adopted a zero waste plan this year that aims to divert 90 percent of waste from landfills and incinerators. Currently, only about 42 percent of waste in Hennepin County is diverted via recycling and composting or by organic materials recycling.

Andrew Hazzard is a reporter with Sahan Journal who focuses on climate change and environmental justice issues. After starting his career in daily newspapers in Mississippi and North Dakota, Andrew returned...