Action Alert: Minnesota Public Utilities Commission: Withdraw funding for increased garbage incineration!

If you want, skip the gory details and go directly to the action items lower down!

As someone with a longstanding interest in energy and environmental issues, Minnesota can be a little strange.  The state, or at least the central part of it, often seems like a wholly owned subsidiary of Xcel Energy (Northern States Power Company).  I’m appalled by the ease with which Xcel seems able to impose its will, and the lack of dignity and self-respect with which officials and self-proclaimed energy/environmental advocates kowtow, grin and shuffle, for Xcel.  Worse, I’m living in Red Wing, blessed with two Xcel nuclear reactors, Prairie Island 1 and 2, two Xcel garbage incinerators ( an old convertedcoal plant) and an Xcel nuclear waste parking lot, all within the city limits.  As far as what Xcel has to offer, Red Wing has it all!

There are so many interlocking scams going on, involving so many entities and so many moral and intellectual failures, that it can look and feel overwhelming.  I’m going to focus on one here and ask for your help:

Just enough background:

Back in the 90’s, during controversies over Xcel’s increasing storage of spent nuclear fuel, a “Renewable Development Account” was legislated as a part of the “1994 Prairie Island bill.”  Xcel would pay money into it in proportion to the number of spent fuel casks at Prairie Island.  The original idea was to compensate, somewhat, the nearest neighbors of the Prairie Island nuke plant, the Prairie Island Indian Community, for the presence of the nuke facilities.  But in what attorney Carol Overland describes as a “backroom deal by the enviros,” the compensation money was turned into a general purpose statewide slush fund for “renewable development” and doled out by the very people who “did the deal.”  Millions of dollars have flowed through it, without much real benefit.  In what was probably the lowest point until now, the Minnesota Legislature did another backroom deal with former NSP lobbyist Tom Micheletti in 2003, and took ten million dollars out of the account and gave it to Micheletti’s Excelsior Energy to promote a new coal burning power plant in Northern Minnesota.  Residents had to spent their own time and energy fighting an obviously bad project funded out of their own picked pockets.

Now, it gets worse:  Xcel wants to give the money to itself to bail out its money-bleeding garbage incineration business.  Yep, you read that right.  In spite of all the rhetoric about Xcel being a “progressive” utility, it’s one of very few directly in the business of burning garbage, about the dirtiest and most expensive known way to generate small amounts of electricity.  In recent years, Xcel’s converted 1940s coal plant/garbage burner in Red Wing has belched out about 1.5 million pounds per years of pollutants, NOT including carbon dioxide, including about 69 pounds of lead, enough to dumb down a lot of kids.  The permit for this burner expired in 2009.  Partial details here.  Some recent press coverage on another Xcel garbage burner is here and here.

Ostensibly, the applicant for the $2 million “renewable” grant is the City of Red Wing to buy a garbage grinder.  Red Wing closed its own money-bleeding garbage incinerator, but wants to stay in the game in partnership with Xcel.  The garbage would be ground up and then shipped to Xcel for burning, and Xcel would be the primary, though indirect, beneficiary of this grant.  Since the grinder would be publicly owned, having it in the garbage supply chain would help dodge legal prohibitions on establishing a garbage monopoly for the benefit of private interests (Xcel).

Xcel and the City of Red Wing have long sought a monopoly on “processing” all the garbage generated in Goodhue County.  Of course, the residents of Red Wing would breathe the additional pollutants from burning more ground-up garbage, but this does not seem to matter to the elected leaders of Red Wing.  This does not seem to matter to the Public Utilities Commission which approves the Renewable Development grants.  Nor does it matter to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which in spite of high-sounding rhetoric about “Environmental Justice,” relentlessly seeks to increase garbage burning while not even bothering to ensure that the burners have current permits.

City of Red Wing public works director Rick Moskwa summarized what’s really intended in official City comments filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission where he explains how Xcel will benefit from this project:

“Lower Operational Costs for Xcel Energy. Xcel historically receives approximately 180,000 tons of RDF from the Newport facility [another garbage grinder], but has capacity to burn approximately 200,000 tons. The goal of the Red Wing facility is to provide the 20,000 ton capacity gap Xcel is experiencing. This would improve the economies of scale for Xcel and reduce downtime due to lack of fuel which occasionally occurs. This efficiency improvement will increase cost effectiveness for Xcel Energy, lowering operational costs for the company.”

In December, the Public Utilities Commission Executive Secretary issued a decision that the burner/grinder money should be granted, ignoring verbal and written objections.  (Unusually, the Commission delegated the decision to its Executive Secretary, maybe to dodge another public meeting, or deflect responsibility for a flagrantly bad action.)  Previous written comments were apparently ignored.  At oral argument in which I participated, the City of Red Wing didn’t even show up.  Everybody in the room knew Xcel was the real player.

Alan Muller has filed a formal Motion for Reconsideration with the Public Utilities Commission on Jan 11th.  Given how deeply penetrated Minnesota is by the slimy tentacles of Xcel and the garbage burner industry, one person’s objections will not be enough.  My previous comments are here and here.  Other “environmental” interests filed no comments.  If you are glutton for punishment, everything can be found at the “edockets” site under Docket number 12-1278.


Tell Mr. Wolf that the Commission should grant the Reconsideration Petition and withdraw approval of the garbage grinder grant.  (Direct contact with the commissioners might be considered improper ex parte contact.)


  • Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith:

Connect with Governor Mark Dayton on Facebook.

Connect with Lt. Governor Smith on Facebook.

Connect with Lt. Governor Smith on Twitter.


  • Your Senator and Representative if you live in Minnesota.

Ask these officials to oppose the garbage grinder grant and support a more independent Public Utilities Commission.


Ask Fowke to get Xcel Energy out of the garbage incineration business and withdraw Xcel support for funding a garbage grinder in Red Wing.

(Other City Council members:,,,,,,

Ask Mayor Bender to withdraw the garbage grinder application, stop promoting garbage incineration, and give priority to the health and quality of life of residents.

Thank you for your efforts to keep Red Wing clean and your help in stopping incineration.

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