Change in Mattoon's FutureGen role has area politicians steamed

Change in Mattoon's FutureGen role has area politicians steamed

MATTOON – A significantly revised FutureGen plan was lauded Thursday by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., but sharply criticized by area Republican officials.

The new proposal, called FutureGen 2.0, no longer includes construction of a state-of-the-art coal-gasification plant on a rural site west of Mattoon.

Instead, said Durbin, it calls for construction of a training center along with the use of deep underground geological formations under about 400 acres of Coles County farmland.

While the original FutureGen plan called for an investment of $2 billion or more in Coles County, most of the money for the new project will be spent 150 miles west – at an idled, 64-year-old Ameren power plant along the Illinois River at Meredosia, in Morgan County. That plant will be retrofitted, at a cost Durbin estimated at $737 million, and the carbon dioxide emissions from the plant will be shipped by pipeline to Mattoon.

Area Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, were livid.

"I consider this a betrayal of Coles County and a betrayal of the people of Illinois, and I urge President Obama to stay the course of the original plan to build a state-of-the-art, clean-coal generation plant that we have been working toward for the last seven years," Johnson said in a statement.

"They are now talking about making Mattoon a repository for the sequestration of carbon dioxide pumped in from all across the country. This is not even close to the scientifically reviewed project that had been promised. The job creation numbers are a fraction of what we had been led to believe. This decision continues what has become a tradition of broken promises on FutureGen."

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Charleston, criticized Obama and Durbin for shifting the focus of Mattoon's role in FutureGen.

"Now as president he has done exactly what he accused the Bush administration of doing, which is to pull the rug out from under the plant," Righter said of Obama. "And Sen. Durbin, who put himself at the front of the line as the biggest advocate for FutureGen, it's my understanding that he signed off on this. I think the people of East Central Illinois are going to find this deeply disturbing.

"They talked about a power generation facility in Mattoon, and now they've turned and gone exactly 180 degrees from that. That's very disappointing."

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said Coles County residents are being shortchanged.

"There were going to be 1,200 construction jobs in Coles County under the original proposal, and hundreds of permanent jobs," he said. "Now there are 2,000 construction jobs somewhere in Illinois and maybe 75 permanent jobs in Coles County.

"This is not what the people of Coles County won fair and square in a competitive bid over towns from all over the country. Asking us to equate a power plant and the jobs it would create with a training center, well, it better be one hell of a training center."

Durbin said, however, that the coal-gasification technology that had been planned to be tested at FutureGen already is being developed.

"The Department of Energy said if we're going to look to research that has a future, what is on the horizon?" he said. "They came up with a process called oxy combustion that uses oxygen in a special atmosphere to ignite the coal at the electric power facility. It reduces emissions dramatically that will be captured into a pipeline that will be piped off the premises and safely stored."

The senator also insisted that FutureGen 2.0 would provide more jobs in Coles County.

"Ultimately the number of permanent jobs that we create is going to be more, in terms of the collection facility and the training facility," he said.

He noted that the process to develop FutureGen, now going on seven years, was challenging.

"I have to tell you that even some of my most loyal friends in the Coles County area were starting to lose faith after six years, thinking is this ever going to happen?" Durbin said. "I think this is going to build way beyond the original FutureGen concept. The biggest difficulty we had with the original FutureGen plan was not just the fact that the research and technology was being tested already but that we were building a power plant and how much it was going to cost to build a brand-new power plant to prove this up, and getting new investors. The cost kept going up every year, and that was the burden we were carrying."

The total cost of FutureGen 2.0 is not known, Durbin said, although the storage facility and transmission network will cost $1.2 billion.

Land acquisition will begin this fall, with construction to start next spring, he said. It is not known when FutureGen 2.0 will go online.

John Mead, director of the coal research center at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said the revised FutureGen project could still benefit Illinois and its faltering coal industry.

"There are multiple technologies that we need to be working on, because we need to know which ones are going to work," he said. "Second, a single technology isn't going to fit every application. And this will be a puzzle piece that will be important for Illinois coal and for the development of domestic energy resources."

Still waiting to be heard from about the revised FutureGen plan were the members of the FutureGen Alliance, mostly leaders of private companies and utilities supporting the project. A spokesman for the group promised a statement Thursday afternoon but as of Thursday evening nothing was issued.

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RAM wrote on August 06, 2010 at 8:08 am

Many of the Republican luminaries who are upset about the changing role of the FutureGen project fail to realize that there are two experimental projects proposed here: so-called clean coal and carbon sequestration. Neither is a proven technology yet our Republican friends speak as if there is no reason not to forge ahead. Perhaps the more reasoned approach described by Mr. Durbin is needed at this time? It is ludicrous that Mr. Johnson would liken Mr. Obama's approach to FutureGen to that of Mr. Bush. Mr. Obama's approach is based on the best available science and a stepwise approach to implementing new technology. Mr. Bush and his supporters like Mr. Johnson made decisions regarding FutureGen based on political whim.

loopillini wrote on August 06, 2010 at 9:08 am

Could it be that politics played some role here as well...I think that area of West Central Illinois is represented by Jay Hoffman - Democrat. Seems to me they are saying that Republican leaning East Central Illinois is not good enough for them to invest in the new power plant...but you are good enough to take our waste!

illiniearl wrote on August 06, 2010 at 12:08 pm

RAM's comments make the most sense of all. Either way though, it's all a waste of taxpayer money - we just can't afford this experiment.

Tom Kacich wrote on August 06, 2010 at 4:08 pm
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Meredosia is not represented by Jay Hoffman. It is represented in the House by a Republican, Rep. Jim Watson, and in the Senate by a Democrat, Sen. Deanna Demuzio.

dw wrote on August 06, 2010 at 5:08 pm

If they were really forward thinking and looking to benefit Illinois, they'd be looking at converting these old coal plants to either a 50% or more co-fired biomass (Miscanthus) with a CO2 recapture & storage facility, which would actually take global warming gas out of the air AND provide money to Illinois farmers without causing black lung and burying miners alive (something that will still happen with "clean coal" tech).