FutureGen project moves to next phase of planning

Plans to develop a “clean coal” research project in Mattoon, Ill., previously killed under the Bush administration, were recently resuscitated.

On June 12, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, Inc., agreed to move into the next phase of planning and development for the FutureGen coal-fueled power plant.

According to Phil Bloomer, spokesperson for Congressman Tim Johnson, the project has received widespread support from the entire Illinois Congressional Delegation. He added that both U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Johnson worked together to keep the project alive for several years.

Bloomer said the project was important to Johnson because the FutureGen plant is the first of its kind, it would boost both local and state economies, and offer an alternative to Middle Eastern oil.

“It’s going to be great for clean energy, fuel independence and the creation of jobs,” Bloomer said.

According to information on the FutureGen Alliance’s Web site, construction alone could create approximately 600-700 jobs. Once operational, the plant could potentially support a permanent workforce of more than 100 employees. And with a project of this size, one or two additional spin-off jobs are expected for each new job created.

Fred Gottheil, an economics professor at the University of Illinois, said in an e-mail that the project should result in positive, long-run effects on national income.

But not only would the economy be stronger, our atmosphere would be healthier too.

Christina Mulka, Press Secretary for Sen. Durbin, said one reason the senator had invested so much time fighting for the project over the past five years was because of the impact the FutureGen plant could have on the environment.

“Senator Durbin supports the technology,” Mulka said. “He believes in cleaner, more efficient energy.”

According to the FutureGen Alliance, the goal is to design and construct a commercial-scale power plant capable of capturing up to 90 percent of harmful carbon dioxide emissions and burying those pollutants thousands of feet below Earth’s surface.

Because of its innovative nature, the Mattoon plant would primarily serve as a research and development facility, testing advanced technologies with the purpose of producing clean, affordable energy. If successful, other power companies may follow suit and eventually be capable of providing this type of electricity at competitive prices.

Of course, contemporary projects such as FutureGen are rarely accomplished without risk.

The cost to build the plant and implement the carbon capture and sequestration technology is currently estimated at $1.5 billion. Since FutureGen is a public-private partnership between Alliance members — consisting of twelve of the world’s leading private energy companies — and the DOE, expenses will be shared. Since Alliance members intend to contribute nearly $400 million each, the financial risk for each company is significant.

However, while plans for FutureGen are progressing, Mulka says the project is still in the early planning stages and the decision has not yet been made about whether it will actually be completed. That will not be determined until more cost estimates and additional studies are done.

“We expect to know more by early 2010,” Mulka said.