By Jamey Dunn
With speculation running rampant about how federal stimulus funds will be spent, it seems that Illinois lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Energy may not be on the same page when it comes to FutureGen, a one-of-its kind project slated for Mattoon that got the kibosh at the last minute in late 2007.
Supporters of the near-zero-emission power plant that would use Illinois coal say they are waiting on Energy Secretary Steven Chu to sign the record of decision, a statement that says the plant has met all required environmental standards for construction. “I think this is the best project to move quickly in coal research, good for Illinois, good for the United States and the world,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who appeared in Springfield last week. “And so what we’re looking for is [Secretary Chu’s] signature on something called a record of decision. And if he would sign that document, we’d be ready to move forward. And so I’m going to do everything I can to urge him to do so.”
Meanwhile, John Grasser, a spokesman for the department’s Fossil Energy Division, says the project has been restructured, so the record of decision no longer matters. “The original FutureGen does not exist right now as a federal project. The record of decision is moot.”
Regardless of the record of decision, FutureGen is eligible for the $1 billion in grants included in the stimulus package for fossil fuel research. The money could be given to one project or split up over several. Chu could hand it out as he sees fit, or several projects may be given the opportunity to compete for the money. According to a timeline on the federal stimulus Web site, agencies must start reporting on these competitive grants by May 20. Even if FutureGen got all the funding, it would not be enough to cover the plant’s estimated $1.8 billion dollar price tag.
Warren Ribley, new director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, says that FutureGen has a good chance to receive funding, partially because the project has potential to stimulate the economy almost immediately.