- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Energy Department is moving forward on a futuristic coal-burning power plant in Illinois that the Bush administration had declared dead.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Friday that reviving the FutureGen plant is an important step that shows the Obama administration’s commitment to carbon-capture technology.

“Developing this technology is critically important for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S. and around the world,” Mr. Chu said.

Negotiations for the FutureGen project have been under way since the Obama administration announced it would consider reviving it. Under President George W. Bush, the project was canceled after cost overruns that a congressional auditor later said were based on false projections.

The Energy Department will commit more than $1 billion to the project under the agreement announced on Friday, with the government’s contribution drawn almost entirely from federal economic-stimulus funds.

The project’s business partners, known as the FutureGen Alliance, is expected to contribute as much as $600 million during the next six years. The FutureGen Alliance will be allowed to raise funds for the project to defray government costs. The agreement also opens the possibility of eventually selling the facility - which initially will be largely an experimental project to show the feasibility of the underlying technology - to private entities for use as a commercial power plant.

Preliminary design work on FutureGen could restart as soon as July. By early next year, the Energy Department expects to have an updated cost estimate and a complete funding plan for the project.

The project, planned for Matoon, Ill., is part of a broader effort to develop large demonstration projects on carbon capture and sequestration. The Energy Department is considering as many as seven such projects that would capture and put into the ground at least 1 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. FutureGen would be the project likely to be furthest along in development.

The economic-recovery plan includes $3.4 billion for carbon-capture research and development, about a third of which is meant for FutureGen. An energy bill being considered in Congress urges development of as many as 10 such projects. Climate legislation before the House would provide as much as $60 billion for the technology, including $1 billion a year for the next 10 years to fund large demonstration projects.

“There are a number of projects being reviewed,” Mr. Chu said earlier this week before the tentative FutureGen agreement was announced. “I agree with the notion that we have to begin commercial-scale demonstration” of carbon capture.

Coal-burning power plants are the leading source of carbon dioxide, and finding economical ways to capture carbon from such plants is viewed as key for the future of coal if a price is put on carbon to combat climate change.

Illinois officials said they were elated with FutureGen’s resurrection. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, called the plant’s revival a “historic moment.”

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