AUBURNDALE, Fla. — Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. announced its Wheelabrator Ridge facility in Auburndale is expected to close at the end of the year. 30 employees are expected to be impacted. 

  • Facility has service area from Jacksonville to Miami-Dade county
  • Company has converted waste materials into energy, sold to Duke Energy since '94
  • Duke Energy terminated contract this year

The Wheelabrator Ridge facility processes 300,000 tons of waste wood, 30,000 tons of scrap tires and 500,000 Mcf of landfill gas each year. It has a service area from Jacksonville to Miami-Dade County, including many municipalities. 

Since 1994, the company has converted the waste into energy and sold it to Duke Energy. Duke Energy spokeswoman Peveeta Persaud said it terminated its power purchase agreement with Wheelabrator because the 27-year-old contract was above the current market price for energy.

Persaud said terminating the contract is expected to save its customers money. 

According to Wheelabrator spokeswoman Michelle Nadeau, termination of the agreement is still subject  to the Florida Public Service Commission.

Wide-ranging impact

Polk County officials received notice on August 22 that Wheelabrator intended to close the facility. The county is one of the company's customers. 

The news has spread amongst tire shop owners like wildfire. 

“It’s definitely going to hurt for sure,” said Ricky Cape, owner of Kathleen Tire and Auto Repair.  

Cape told us he's unaware of anywhere else nearby where he can dispose of his scrap tires. 

“I believe Ocala is supposed to be the next closest place,” Cape said.  

Cape drops off about 200 tires a week. He estimates taking the tires to Ocala will cost him thousands of dollars by the time he buys a bigger trailer to haul them. 

“We’ll probably have to end up raising our tire disposal fee up by another dollar to compensate for the extra gas and extra time.” Cape said. 

More tires piled up roadside?

Cape fears customers won’t want to pay a higher tire disposal fee, especially if they’re dropping off 20 at a time. 

“I think it’s going to make everything look a lot trashier," Cape explained. "I mean, I’m expecting to see tires piled up on the side of the road, people just trying to get rid of it."

He’s already cut back on the amount of scrap tires he accepts. 

“You can’t leave bad tires laying around because of all of the mosquitoes and everything else," he said. "You got to constantly keep them picked up and moved. If we can’t keep them gone, we’d have to probably almost stop selling tires."

County help on the way

Polk County leaders met Friday to come up with a plan to help the tire businesses in the area. Currently, the county landfill only accepts tires from residential customers and can only keep 1,500 on its property at a time.  

“We’re going to talk to the state regulators about changing the conditions of our permit to allow us to store and process more tires on our site. Yes we are pursuing that,” said Bill Beasley, one of the county’s Deputy County Managers. 

Wheelabrator was conducting maintenance this week and was only accepting tires from contracted customers. It plans to resume accepting tires from all customers Sept.4 until the end of the year. 

Wheelabrator spokeswoman Michelle Nadeau issued the following statement about the closing.

"Wheelabrator Technologies, the second largest U.S. waste-to-energy business with a platform of 26 strategically located assets in the U.S. and U.K., has agreed to a termination of its power purchase agreement (PPA) with Duke Energy Florida and will retire Wheelabrator Ridge —a 46-MW waste fuel facility located in Auburndale, Florida—at or around the end of the year," said Jairaj Gosine, vice president of operations for Wheelabrator. 

We extend our appreciation to our customers, the local community of Auburndale, the community partners and businesses we have worked closely with over time, and especially our 30 highly skilled employees for their dedicated service and commitment to safety and operational excellence over the facility’s 24-year history as part of one team. We have developed a comprehensive employee plan that includes a gradual reduction in staff over the next 5-7 months, retention bonuses to plant closure, placement in other jobs throughout the company, outplacement services and severance packages.

The agreement is subject to approval by the Florida Public Service Commission."