FutureGen revision will need state OK and maybe rate hike
If the recently revised FutureGen 2.0 project is ever built, it's going to require more support from the Illinois Legislature – and possibly more money from Ameren ratepayers.
The original FutureGen project called for building both a new power plant and a deep underground carbon dioxide storage site in Mattoon. The revised project includes a rehabilitated 60-year-old Ameren power plant near Meredosia in western Illinois, connected by pipeline to an as-yet undetermined storage site. Mattoon officials have withdrawn from the project.
According to an Ameren press release, the utility and its partners in construction of an oxy-combustion power plant in Meredosia "will approach the legislature for a change in state law to establish a cost recovery mechanism for the project."
A spokeswoman for Ameren, Susan Gallagher, said she wasn't certain what the company would seek from state lawmakers.
"I can't give you any detail about that," she said. "What you see there is as much as I know."
But state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said he believes it means Ameren will ask for help to finance the project.
"I think what that means is that they are going to ask for some kind of public subsidy or provision in a law that will either allow the utilities to charge more for power generated from that plant or simply to pay the utilities to do it," he said. "That's what I hear when I hear that statement."
Righter said lawmakers might not be receptive to that idea.
"I haven't thought about all the ways that could be packaged," he said. "But particularly the way the economy is now, to be pitching that kind of a thing, that's not going to be an easy sell to say the least."
In another likely controversial provision, Ameren said it needs to "address the issue of long-term liability with respect to a CO2 pipeline and sequestration, to be supplied by participants other than Ameren and its partners."
Righter and state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, predicted problems with that provision.
"I'll tell you what," Righter said, "that will be a tougher trek in my view. You're talking about something far more complicated than simply injecting on the site. This notion of a 175-mile pipeline (from the power plant to an underground storage site) still makes me shake my head."
Rose was even more blunt.
"Keep in mind," he said, "that the current state liability statute applies only to Mattoon. So there is no liability anything at this point for Meredosia, or for the pipeline.
"We deliberately, in the original language, limited the liability only to post-injected gas, the carbon dioxide in the ground. There was no liability for the pipes to the ground because no one could say it was safe. That's why Mattoon won in the first place, because it was the only place where you injected it on site and you wouldn't need a pipeline."
The Department of Energy said last month that it wanted to build the underground storage site within 100 miles of the Meredosia plant.
"They couldn't convince us before to give immunity on the whole pipeline," Rose said. "They're going to have to come up with something better this time to convince us that it's safe.
"The first imperative of government is to make sure that whatever we do doesn't harm our citizens. We were very careful in the original legislation to limit it only to post-injected gas because of concerns about the safety of a CO2 pipeline. If they can convince people that it will only go 10 miles and that they're going to have a chain-linked, barbed-wire fence guarding it and nobody can get within 50 feet of it, who knows? But what if it's an 80-mile pipeline? I've got a heckuva lot less comfort level with an 80-mile pipeline."
Meanwhile, Energy Department spokeswoman Tiffany Edwards said Wednesday that the agency isn't ready to announce how Illinois communities can apply to host the sequestration facility. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office said Tuesday that more than two dozen communities have expressed interest in storing the power plant's carbon dioxide emissions.