Elk River project stops operations, prepares for closure

Operations of Great River Energy’s Elk River Resource Recovery Project concluded last month, bringing the long-running generation resource one step closer to closing.

The last load of municipal solid waste was delivered to the Elk River Resource Processing Plant on Jan. 15. The Elk River Energy Recovery Station, which generates renewable energy from household garbage, stopped producing electricity on Jan. 21.

In the 30 years of operation as a waste-to-energy project, the energy recovery station generated 4.6 million megawatt-hours of renewable energy. The resource processing plant processed more than 10 million tons of municipal solid waste.

The employees working Jan. 15 processed the final delivery of garbage at the Elk River Resource Recovery Project.

The employees working Jan. 15 processed the final delivery of garbage at the Elk River Resource Recovery Project.

“This project made a valuable product from people’s waste,” said Great River Energy Resource Recovery Director Tim Steinbeck. “We are proud to have prevented billions of pounds of garbage from being landfilled.”

Employees at the project are cleaning the facilities and properly shutting them down. The last day of operations will be March 15. The facilities will either be sold or decommissioned in the months ahead.

“The Elk River Resource Recovery Project has provided dependable electricity to Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives for decades,” said Rick Lancaster, Great River Energy vice president and chief generation officer. “The plant’s long, successful record has been possible thanks to a talented staff and supportive community.”

The closure of the Elk River Resource Recovery Project will not affect Great River Energy’s other operations in Elk River where an additional 135 employees work at a peaking power plant and an office/warehouse/garage complex.

A storied history

The Elk River Energy Recovery Station began operations in the early 1950s using coal as the fuel source. In the early 1960s, the site hosted a federal (Atomic Energy Commission) nuclear reactor. The test reactor was fully decommissioned by the government in the early 1970s. The project was converted to produce electricity using refuse-derived fuel in the 1980s.

In recent years, the project has faced challenges due to low electricity prices in the Midwest energy market and difficulty securing enough waste to continue operations.