Thursday, July 16, 2009

FutureGen on track to a 2010 decision

By Bethany Jaeger and Jamey Dunn
The east-central Illinois’ site for the first-of-its-kind, cleaner-burning power plant meets all environmental standards needed for FutureGen to continue, according to a recent decision by the federal government.

The U.S. Department on Energy issued a formal opinion called a record of decision, one regulatory step needed for the public-private partnership to move forward. Any small step forward is a big relief for a group of investors, as well as state and local officials, who have worked since at least 2004 to secure support of the technology called fully integrated carbon capture and sequestration. Simply, it would capture carbon dioxide pollutants and trap them underground. The goal is to capture 90 percent of the carbon emissions by the third year of a five-year test period, according to the record of decision.

The entire project and design of the Mattoon plant stalled in January 2008, when former President George Bush’s administration pulled support because of concerns about growing costs and increasing risks to taxpayers. A federal report by the Government Accountability Office, however, later indicated accounting errors overestimated the cost by $500 million.

The Mattoon site and the project were revived last month when U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu of President Barack Obama’s administration committed to working toward constructing FutureGen in Mattoon and contributing $1.073 billion, $1 billion of which is expected to come from the federal stimulus package. Including the cost of materials, recent estimates have said the total price tag could exceed $2 billion.

A group of investors and energy industry stakeholders called FutureGen Alliance would have to foot at least $400 million to $600 million of the remaining costs. The goal was for at least 20 partners to contribute a total of $20 million throughout the next four to six years.

But two partners recently dropped out of the alliance, reducing membership to nine. American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co. cited concerns about costs. Steve Higginbottom, spokesman for Southern Co., added that the company pulled out to focus on other technology research being conducted by the government and industry partners. The uncertainty of FutureGen also contributed, he said, but added: “We’re supportive of the FutureGen project. We think it has the potential to lead to some developments.”

The state’s involvement has included the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which now will contribute to more behind-the-scenes work, said Marcelyn Love, agency spokeswoman. That will include helping to prepare the final design and the site layout. “But we will continue to do whatever is needed to ensure that FutureGen can become a reality,” she said.

Illinois' recent enactment of a capital construction program includes $17 million, which Love said is intended to help pay for site development or construction.

The next stages in the project will start at the end of this month and continue through early 2010. The U.S. Energy Department listed the following steps:
  • Restart preliminary design activities.
  • Complete a site-specific preliminary design and update the cost estimate.
  • Expand the alliance sponsorship program.
  • Develop a complete funding plan.
  • Consider adding “subsurface characterization.”
A decision about whether to discontinue the project is expected by early 2010.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for this information


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