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Archive for Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Energy Department pulls support for new clean-burning coal plant

January 30, 2008

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— The two words posted on the marquee of the old theater in Mattoon, Ill., the morning of Dec. 18 said it all.

"We won!"

Not so fast.

"We" were the 18,000 citizens of the central Illinois city, and what they'd "won" was the promise of a futuristic, $1.8 billion experiment known as FutureGen.

The plant, designed to prove that coal could generate electricity without heavy pollution, would bring hundreds of jobs. But on Tuesday, that December morning seemed like a lifetime ago.

The Department of Energy, after weeks of complaining about rising costs, told members of Illinois' congressional delegation that it wants out of the project. Three-quarters of the money was to have come from the agency, with the rest from power and coal companies known as the FutureGen Alliance.

The department would not publicly divulge its intentions about the plant, or discuss what was said during the private meeting, saying only that it planned an announcement within days.

The reaction from lawmakers at the meeting, though, was sharp and swift.

Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, accused Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman of "cruel deception" of Illinoisans by "creating false hope in a FutureGen project which he has no intention of funding or supporting."

Illinois' delegation in Congress "is going to make the case for FutureGen directly to the president," Durbin said.

"We will not go down without a fight," he said.

Officials in Texas, where two towns competed with Illinois for the project, seemed resigned in December to a future without FutureGen. But on Tuesday they said the DOE's change of heart wasn't a shock, considering the DOE's steady grumbling over the past six weeks.

"There is zero surprise in my voice," said Scott Tinker, director of economic geology at the University of Texas at Austin, which helped coordinate the state's effort to nab the project.

And Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison seemed poised to try to swoop in and snag some of whatever clean-coal project the DOE might now have in mind.

"With the overall cost of FutureGen nearly doubling, the Department of Energy is wise to review the project to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars," said Hutchison spokesman Matt Mackowiak.

"The state of Texas and our private industry have a lot to offer if DOE decides to competitively bid this project," he said.

The FutureGen Alliance - which includes major U.S. coal-burning utilities American Electric Power and Southern Co., and the country's largest coal producer, Peabody Energy - last month announced the plant would be built in Mattoon. The site was chosen over Tuscola, Ill., and the two sites in Texas - Jewett and Penwell.

But the DOE wanted the announcement delayed until the project could be redesigned and costs reduced. The department also said it wasn't ready to issue its final notice that Mattoon was environmentally acceptable.

Bodman declined to discuss the DOE's plans with The Associated Press.

The DOE said in a statement that it "remains committed to FutureGen's objectives to advance the availability and use of clean-coal technology to meet growing demand and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," and "believes that the public interest mandates that FutureGen deliver the greatest possible technological benefits in the most cost-efficient manner."

Comments

Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like the same problems with Nuke Power..... cost is unreasonable. That's privatization and deregulation at its' finest. Oddly enough both nuke and coal pose huge environometal problems wherever they exist which are extraordinarily expensive.

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