Seismic studies next on agenda for FutureGen sites

TUSCOLA – Representatives from Tuscola and Mattoon, back from a two-day meeting in Pittsburgh, say the sessions were helpful in explaining what the cities need to do to win the proposed FutureGen plant.

They reviewed the technical aspects of the environment work the cities have to do, said Brian Moody, director of Tuscola's economic development efforts. And they asked a lot of questions.

"We wanted to get them addressed while everyone was in the same room," Moody said.

Angela Griffin, president of Coles Together, said she feels good about the Mattoon proposal and the project after the meeting.

"I feel like I've been reoriented," she said. "After the initial scores came out, we felt good about ours, but no one gave much thought to the next stage. In many ways, we're starting from scratch. It's a whole new part of the selection process, a different evaluation."

Moody and Griffin returned midweek from the meeting with members of the power company alliance that wants to build a $1 billion clean-burning coal generation plant using state-of-the-art technology. Also at the meeting were representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy who are involved in the planning.

Tuscola, Mattoon and two cities in Texas – Jewett and Odessa – are site finalists. According to Alliance evaluations of the initial proposals, Jewett came out on top, followed by Mattoon and Odessa. Tuscola edged out Effingham for fourth place.

Moody said additional studies to be done include more seismic analysis – how earthquakes might affect the site and the underlying geological structures where FutureGen plans to store unwanted byproducts of their generation process.

"The time frame is really short, so we want to know exactly what the most important elements of those studies are so we can get them done in the required time," he said.

Griffin said seismic information also was an important part of the initial proposal because of the importance of site stability.

"It was a very early selection criteria, a key factor determining what regions in the entire country should be under consideration," she said, noting that Illinois candidates had a lot of help from the Champaign-based Illinois State Geological Survey in compiling that data.

Griffin said now candidates are gathering more information.

"This is a proving process," she said. "We're showing that this is what we have and here's proof. It's put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is time."

Moody called the environmental assessment the Douglas County team will have to make "a significant refinement" of the city's earlier proposal, the one that got the city on the finalists' list.

"We asked a lot of questions about how they want the information submitted and who we can talk to if we have questions," Moody said. He said the Illinois delegation to the Pittsburgh meeting numbered 10, and only five people showed up from Texas.

"It's apparent to us that different sites have different strengths and weaknesses," he said. "But the thing we came away with is the feeling that the process won't be political. We get the impression that science will drive it. The science is so advanced, so much that's new and so many incredible minds focused on it."

Griffin and Moody said their two cities are exchanging information and assistance because their first priority is to bring FutureGen to Illinois.

"Today one of my jobs was to put together a matrix of deadlines because so many things are due," Griffin said. "I'm sharing that with Tuscola and state officials. We're all on everyone's list and every e-mail that goes out goes to everyone."

The first deadline for some of the environmental documentation is Sept. 17, she said.

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