Olmsted County Dedicated to Protecting Air, Soil and Water
7/11/2019 Tony Hill, Director, Olmsted County Environmental Resources

Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility

Published in the Post Bulletin on July 3, 2019​

Olmsted County has been and will always be committed to protecting the people and environment in our communities. We continue to make investments in the resources and infrastructure we need to ensure our air, soil and water are protected not only now, but for future generations.

When it comes to solid waste management, Olmsted County uses a holistic approach by promoting reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery. After that, safe disposal is used as a last resort. Despite waste reduction and recycling efforts, more than one million pounds of waste is produced each day in our County, but what we do with that waste is pretty remarkable.

In the 1980s, garbage disposal was a hot topic in the community. The Oronoco Landfill was listed as a Superfund cleanup site, and there was a growing concern that a drinking water aquifer was impacted due to our local Karst terrain of underground fractures, fissures, sinkholes, and conduits that make our groundwater susceptible to pollution. We could have easily shipped our trash off to another county or state to deal with, but the leaders of the community were seeking a more sustainable and better way to deal with solid waste. Their vision and leadership resulted in an integrated solid waste management system that included a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility, recycling center, hazardous waste facility, yard waste composting site, and the development of modern landfill that exceeded state requirements.

The Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility (OWEF) began operation in 1987. Minnesota has seven WTE plants, more than the rest of the Midwest region combined; however, the U.S. remains behind the rest of the world with less than 100 WTE plants nationwide.

At the Olmsted County Waste-to-Energy Facility (OWEF), the county’s solid waste is burned to create steam and electricity, providing energy to more than 30 buildings in Rochester. Through that process, the volume of trash is reduced by about 90 percent, leaving only about 10 percent in the form of ash (which is deposited in an environmentally protective ash monofill at the Olmsted County Kalmar Landfill).

The OWEF helps us preserve space at the Kalmar Landfill. Without it, this landfill would have been filled to capacity by 1997! Because we burn the trash to create energy, we are reducing greenhouse gases that would otherwise be created by waste decomposing in our landfill.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, WTE facilities are required to be equipped with the most modern air pollution control technology available to ensure emissions are safe for human health and the environment. The OWEF has robust pollution control and capture technology and is in compliance with all state and federal air emission standards.

We operate the OWEF safely and efficiently to ensure emissions continue to be well below permitted limits. We have well-trained workers that properly operate OWEF equipment and state-of-the-art pollution control systems that control and/or capture extremely small particulate matter, acid gases, metals and dioxins.

In Olmsted County, we take pollution control very seriously. We continue to monitor advancements in pollution control technology to determine feasibility of making additional voluntary reductions in air pollution.

While our best option is always reducing the amount of waste generated, we must also use all our local resources, including solid waste, to its fullest, instead of shipping it off to other communities or burying the material away for future generations to deal with. Above all, we remain committed to managing as much waste as we can above ground while meeting or exceeding all environmental standards.

For more information, see our FAQs about the OWEF.