Coal board to discuss uses for $2 million FutureGen pledge

Coal board to discuss uses for $2 million FutureGen pledge

CARBONDALE – Southern Illinois University's Clean Coal Review Board today will discuss spending the $2 million it had pledged to support building the clean coal-burning FutureGen plant in Mattoon.

The board, which is composed of Illinois legislators and coal industry officials, will discuss using that $2 million as a matching grant to the FutureGen Alliance, a group of 13 international power companies hoping to build in Mattoon. The money will go toward engineering studies needed to keep the project going until a new administration takes the White House, said Clean Coal Review Board chairman Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta.

The board will discuss three targets for its money. The first is developing a plant efficiency study for using Illinois coal in the FutureGen plant. The plant would trap the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, given off when coal is burned, liquify it and store it deep underground.

The money could also be used to identify the plant's environmental considerations, such as reducing wastewater and dealing with byproducts, Reitz said, and to develop a strategy for the plant's operations.

The alliance's agreement with the board stipulates that information from the studies can be distributed by both parties.

Roger Gilchrist, the FutureGen Alliance's executive director of project development, said the money could also be used to study the engineering and design for air emissions control, which will give the project the technical know-how required to move forward. The projects will benefit both the alliance and the state, he said.

The alliance plans to spend about $6 million of its own money on moving the plant forward. It originally partnered with the U.S. Energy Department, which had agreed to pay for about three-quarters of the plant's $1.8 billion price tag. It announced early this year it wants to help pay for smaller, commercial plants instead.

But FutureGen supporters are holding on until a new administration takes office, in hopes the decision will be reversed.

Results of the Clean Coal Review Board meeting were not available at press time, but Reitz said he's not expecting objections to the plans for the money. The $2 million was pledged unanimously in July 2007 as part of the state's offer to attract the plant, Reitz said.

"We still all believe it's a very worthwhile project," Reitz said. The board's decision would simply restructure the money to pay for specific projects, rather than just general construction costs. The review board oversees the spending of a $25 million grant from Commonwealth Edison Company on clean-coal programs and projects.

U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, sent a letter Tuesday to the Clean Coal Review Board, urging it to continue its support for building FutureGen in Mattoon. The letter was signed by members of the Illinois delegation, including Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Dick Durbin and eight other U.S. representatives.

Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said all the players supporting FutureGen, from Illinois' lawmakers to the state government to the city of Mattoon, remain unified behind the project. Johnson echoed that sentiment in his letter.

"We remain undeterred by the actions of the Department of Energy," Johnson wrote. "We will use every resource available to ensure this project gets built, as promised, in the best interests of Coles County, the cause of clean coal energy and our energy independence."

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