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Illinois Lands Future Gen Power Plant

Wed January 02, 2008 - Midwest Edition

A futuristic power plant aimed at burning coal without emitting global warming gases will be built in Downstate Mattoon, an industry group said Dec. 18.

Known as FutureGen, the $1.8 billion facility near Mattoon is expected to bring hundreds of jobs, but Congress has placed the private-government research project under increasing scrutiny because of cost and long delays.

The price tag is nearly double the $950 million originally projected, with three-fourths of the cost coming from taxpayers.

The industry group selected Mattoon in southern Illinois over another Illinois site at Tuscola, and two locations in Texas — Odessa and Jewett — all of which had received favorable environmental reviews in November.

The FutureGen Alliance, a consortium of 12 U.S. and foreign energy companies, hoped to have the facility, first proposed eight years ago, completed and operating by 2012.

It is supposed to be virtually pollution-free and produce electricity and hydrogen. Its carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas, is to be captured and buried.

The plant is expected to require at least 700 workers during construction and will employ several hundred people when operating, according to the industry group.

President Bush has touted FutureGen as a key to developing carbon-free coal-burning power plants and essential for the emergence later this century of a hydrogen-based energy economy.

A Chinese utility is among the alliance members. A year ago Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, during a trip to Asia, hailed China’s decision to participate in a government steering committee.

Congress is giving the program $75 million this year, $33 million less than the administration had wanted. Committees overseeing Energy Department spending expressed concern that FutureGen was siphoning money away from other clean-coal programs.

The alliance members — including major U.S. coal-burning utilities American Electric Power and Southern Co., and the country’s largest coal producer, Peabody Energy — have committed $400 million over 10 years.

Michael Mudd, president of the FutureGen Alliance, said at a news conference the decision was not based on politics but on science and the technical benefits shown by the Mattoon location.

’’Downstate Illinois has the coal, the geology and the commitment needed to make this project a success,’’ said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who had lobbied the Energy Department and the industry alliance on the issue.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said that ’’we must now turn to focusing on keeping FutureGen funded at the necessary levels of construction and then future operations.’’

State officials were excited about the selection.

’’We all let out a cheer when he said Mattoon,’’ said Jack Lavin, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s director.

The FutureGen project has been the subject of intense lobbying by lawmakers from the two rival states.

Texas’ large GOP-tilted delegation has been pressing administration officials on the value of that state’s two sites — Odessa in western Texas and the Heart of Brazos near Jewett in the eastern part of the state.

’’Texas is the ideal location,’’ argued Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and one of the most consistent supporters of the White House on Capitol Hill.

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