By Jamey Dunn
FutureGen, a “clean” coal plant proposed for construction in Mattoon, got backing today from an Illinois utility company. Exelon, based in Chicago, has joined the group of investors, known as the FutureGen alliance, that support the project.
As originally proposed the plant would use a first-of-its kind combination of technology to capture carbon emissions created from burning coal and trap them underground. (For more information on clean coal and FutureGen see Illinois Issues May 2009.)
The project 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 that accounting errors overestimated the cost by $500 million.
“People were upset. Upset that we went through five years of competition for this coal research project and they pulled the rug out from under us as soon as Illinois won,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said at a Chicago news conference.
The project awaits approval of more than $1 billion in stimulus funds from the U.S. Department of Energy. Including the cost of materials, recent estimates have said the total price could exceed $2 billion. The feds asked the alliance to find cost savings to reduce that price and more private investors to back the plan. Durbin said that is why support from Exelon helps the plant’s chances for moving forward.
“Exelon — in joining the FutureGen alliance — not only brings more credibility to the project, more resources to the project, they bring their expertise to the project and move us closer to approval,” Durbin said.
Two investors, Electric Power Co. and Southern Co, dropped out of the project last year, citing concerns over rising costs. With Exelon on board, the alliance is up to 10 members.
The goal of the plant is to capture 90 percent of the carbon emissions by the third year of a five-year test period, according to the Department of Energy.
“We can’t ignore the scientific consensus that suggests that we have to find a way to control carbon emissions if we are to move forward in combating global warming and climate change,” said Doyle Beneby, senior vice president of Exelon Power. “It’s clear that we need to do everything we can as an industry to make sure that coal continues to become part of the energy mix here and part of the mix in a low carbon future.”
A decision from the DOE is expected in February. Check back for further details.