DOE alters FutureGen plans in Illinois
Instead of building the futuristic power plant, the government will use the site to store carbon dioxide produced by another plant.
Thu, Aug 05, 2010 at 09:20 PM
NO MORE: This is an artist's rendering of the $1.8 billion next-generation FutureGen power plant that was going to be built in Mattoon, Ill. (Photo: U.S. Department of Energy/AP)
The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday dropped its long-running plans to build a futuristic power plant in eastern Illinois and said it will instead use the site for the storage of carbon dioxide produced by another power plant across the state.
The decision to radically change the so-called FutureGen project appeared to take many of those who were involved with it by surprise. Officials in Mattoon, the city about 170 miles south of Chicago where the plant was to have been built, said they only learned Thursday that the project wasn't going forward.
The FutureGen project originally was to include an experimental coal-fired power plant near Mattoon. Carbon dioxide from burning the coal would have been stored underground.
The Energy Department said Thursday that it will instead retrofit an existing plant in western Illinois that belongs to Ameren Corp. in Meredosia, along the Illinois River. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change, will be piped from the plant to Mattoon for storage along 175-miles of pipeline it will build.
The entire project is expected to cost $1.2 billion — including about $1.13 billion in federal money — and construction is expected to begin in the spring. It isn't clear when the project might be completed, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said during a conference call.
The plant will test what is known as oxy-combustion — a process where pure oxygen, rather than air, is used to burn fuels such as coal. FutureGen had been intended to test a power-production process known as Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle. Several other projects have ramped up to test that process, Durbin noted, leading the Energy Department to seek a new purpose for FutureGen.
"The heart of this is a research effort," Durbin said. "It really made no sense to build a power plant to prove what's already being tested in three or four other commercial facilities."
The FutureGen Alliance — a group of firms working on the project — declined comment on the change. But a spokesman for one of its member companies said they only learned of the move Thursday.
"We'll be sitting down with DOE the next couple of weeks and digging into the weeds, if you will, of this new project," said Steve Winber of CONSOL Energy, a coal producer.
Durbin said it's possible other plants in Illinois and elsewhere could be linked to the pipeline.
The change comes 2 1/2 years after Mattoon — about 45 miles south of Champaign — was chosen to be the home of FutureGen. The town watched as the project was scrapped entirely at one point by the Bush administration, then tentatively revived, provided it could be reworked to lower costs.
The project had promised 1,300 jobs for Mattoon while the plant was being built, and 150 high-skilled permanent positions.
"I consider this a betrayal of Coles County and a betrayal of the people of Illinois," Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, whose district includes Matton, said in a written statement.
The new plan would create about 1,000 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs at the plant in Meredosia and an undetermined number of jobs at a training facility in Mattoon for people to learn how to build similar pipelines elsewhere in the U.S., Durbin said.
It was welcome news in Meredosia, about 60 miles northwest of Springfield.
"We've had a little bit of loss of industry and suffered a lot of difficulties that rural counties have. Obviously it can make a huge difference to economic development efforts," said Morgan County Planner Dusty Morgan.
Environmental groups have been split on FutureGen, and Greenpeace, which has long opposed the FutureGen project, said the changes aren't any better.
"How many billions of taxpayer dollars will we send down what is now just a hole in the ground before we recognize that pumping carbon pollution underground is nothing more than an industry pipe dream?" said Dan Howells, Greenpeace deputy campaigns director.
(Associated Press Writer Serena Dai contributed to this report from Chicago.)
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