FutureGen coal boondoggle, err… site selection: Illinois

Written by Matt Leonard

Topics: Coal

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So, after 8 years of debate, the Department of Energy finally announced the location for it’s FutureGen prototype “cleanER”coal plant this morning. Mattoon, Illinois. It was once hailed as a “clean coal” and “zero emissions” project, but now it’s merely “Cleaner coal” and “near-zero emissions” project. At least there’s a dab of honesty there.

While I won’t rehash the ongoing debates over the merits of carbon capture and sequestration yet again – I will throw out a different angle for why we should oppose the FutureGen project.

Most of us agree that at best, CCS takes much-needed money, research, and energy away from scaling up renewable sources like wind and solar. But while we can debate if coal has a place in our energy future – I would hope we all agree that public money should be focused on renewable options – and we should force the same dirty energy companies who made the mess and created our reliance on coal to clean up that mess. If research on CCS is going to go forward for the benefit of private corporations – they should be the ones footing the bill and taking the economic and technological risk of that technology.

So, FutureGen wouldn’t be quite as disturbing if private industry were funding the research and development of this project, assuming the risks involved of the plant not being viable, and also assuming the market risks when clean energy overtakes them with cleaner, cheaper solutions. And advocates of CCS have been clear – it’s not a viable technology unless the government assumes liability for disposal, accidents, and leaks of stored C02. Which could be catastrophic. But instead, taxpayers are footing the bill for this $1.8 billion dollar project – which is essentially a very expensive life vest (that may or may not work) for the coal industry.

275 megawatts? $1.8 billion? That’s $6,500 per kilowatt installed – already more expensive than wind or solar, not even counting operational and fuel costs! While FutureGen hopes to up and running by 2012 – recall the DOE’s three IGCC project plants in the past decade. All three had massive operating problems, and one was shut down entirely, unable to overcome those hurdles. So who knows what will happen with FutureGen – but we certainly don’t have the time to wait for emissions to keep spiraling out of control – we need emissions reductions now.

It’s also telling that the costs for the FutureGen have already nearly doubled since inception (before even breaking ground). Given the explosive costs for every other proposed coal project in the country, they will only continue to rise. And who will pay for those overruns? I leave you the quote below from Representative Shimkus:

“we must now turn to focusing on keeping FutureGen funded at the necessary levels of construction and then future operations”.

-Matt

 

Officials Pick Site for Coal Plant

By H. JOSEF HEBERT – 1 hour ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — A futuristic power plant aimed at burning coal without emitting global warming gases will be built in Illinois, an industry group said Tuesday.

Known as FutureGen, the $1.8 billion facility near Mattoon, Ill., 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 last month.

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.”

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.

Illinois 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,” argues Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and one of the most consistent supporters of the White House on Capitol Hill.

Associated Press writer Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this report

3 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Will says:

    Nice to see someone else making some of the same points and asking the same questions I have been asking. The FutureGen Illinois organizers cleverly put the heads of several area news outlets on their task force and the result has been ridiculously one sided news coverage that doesn’t raise any of the issues related to this plant.

  2. Michael says:

    Thumbs up from me!

  3. Indokratom says:

    Hand off the forests please to many of us depend on all the great trees that are growing here. What if there is not more kratom tree to be found in the end..:(

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