FutureGen a crucial step toward sustainable energy

Earlier this month, the US Department of Energy announced plans to appropriate one billion for FutureGen, a Mattoon-based clean energy project put on hold by the Bush administration. FutureGen is a public-private partnership to develop a coal burning power plant in which carbon emissions would be sequestered underground and is expected to provide significant economic benefits for the area.

We applaud the Obama administration for committing support to this economically and environmentally valuable project.

In 2007, the Department of Energy gave tentative approval to funding for FutureGen before rescinding the project for what it called cost overruns, but some observers thought instead it was favoritism for a site in Texas. The project sat idle for the last year and a half before being revived as part of the Obama’s administration sustainability initiatives.

Under current plans, the plant would be designed initially to capture 60 percent of carbon emissions, with 90 percent retention possible in the future.

Cleaner sources of energy are a crucial part of fighting climate change, and FutureGen is a significant step in this direction.

FutureGen would also test other energy-saving technologies for use in commercial plants in the future. Research and innovation are a necessary part of moving the US towards more sustainable sources of energy.

FutureGen represents an environmentally sustainable way of using a resource Illinois already has in abundance.

The plant is expected to employ around 150 people once it is up and running. Construction is expected to bring around 1,300 jobs to the area, as well as generating secondary jobs and tax revenue. Mattoon is sorely in need of an economic engine, having faced unemployment rates as high as 13 percent in the past, and dwindled from 20,000 to 18,000 residents as people left to seek jobs elsewhere. FutureGen is a worthy investment in restoring jobs and confidence in an economically suffering area.

Unfortunately, the project isn’t out of the woods yet. Two partners in the project, American Electric Power and Southern Co., recently withdrew citing cuts in their own budgets. The entire project carries a price tag of $2.1 billion, leaving $1.1 billion in additional funding needed after the federal appropriation.

The Department of Energy has done their job. Now energy firms need to step forward with an investment in clean energy and jobs for Illinois.

FutureGen is a perfect example of how sustainability and increased employment can go hand in hand.