FutureGen Alliance buys land for plant near Mattoon

CHAMPAIGN – The FutureGen Alliance bought more than 400 acres of land Thursday to build the world's first clean coal-powered plant.

Officials plan to announce the move, along with results from a new geology test, at 10:30 a.m. today at Mattoon Schools Administrative Center.

"When the (U.S.) Department of Energy decided in January this year they were going to change direction, the residents of Coles County and the State of Illinois chose not to change direction and continued to develop the plant site to the best of our ability and maintain the integrity of the plant site so that when a new administration takes over, they would be able to hit the ground running," said Angela Griffin, president of Coles Together.

FutureGen is a $1.8 billion experimental coal-fired power plant that would store its carbon dioxide emissions 7,500 feet below the surface. Though the project was announced last December, the Department of Energy shelved the project after promising to fund three-quarters of the cost.

Coles Together and residents of Coles County collectively raised $3 million toward the $6.5 million needed to buy the land, Griffin said.

The groups will close on two more pieces of property next week that total 29 acres, but as of now, "They largely own the plant site," she said.

Results from a new seismic test also show that the site is "more than suitable" to house the project.

"We've had a higher level testing at that site than any other site," Griffin said. "No matter what, if those reports came back and showed any kind of geological crack and fissure, then it didn't matter what, it could have held the project up and even stalled it. The site is perfect."

Officials from the FutureGen Alliance, comprising 13 international power companies, have been meeting with representatives of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team to push forward plans for the project.

Buying the more than 400-acre site is the latest step.

"Actions speak much louder than words," said Michael Mudd, chief executive officer of FugureGen Alliance. "They show how encouraged we are to be able to bring FutureGen at Mattoon back on track."

Griffin said that though everyone is optimistic about FutureGen's future – "We don't think that this country or the other developing nations are going to get off their coal dependence in the future" – the site will be well-equipped to lure other companies if FutureGen is not built.

"As the country deals with the issue of greenhouse gases, companies and industries are going to need sites like this one," Griffin said. "Our belief is it will be snapped up very quickly if FutureGen is not built."

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