FutureGen Alliance will seek proposals for underground storage

FutureGen Alliance will seek proposals for underground storage

WASHINGTON – Communities interested in hosting the underground carbon dioxide storage site for the FutureGen 2.0 clean-coal project not only have to meet several criteria, but they're going to have to act quickly to enter the competition, the FutureGen Alliance said Wednesday.

Later this month, according to the alliance, it will issue a request for proposals from downstate Illinois governments, organizations or private parties.

And within about three weeks of that request, applicants will be required to submit complete proposals.

"I think it will be very difficult to screen for all those things in such a short period of time," said Angela Griffin, the president and CEO of Coles Together, an economic development agency that had hoped to host the original FutureGen project in Mattoon. Coles Together withdrew from the project when the original plans were significantly revised this summer.

In its memorandum, the FutureGen Alliance seemed to acknowledge the quick turnaround required of communities.

"Because of the short response time available, it is strongly recommended that prospective site offerors begin now to form proposal teams and acquire the resources needed to provide the data and documentation that will be required for the site selection process," the memorandum said.

The FutureGen Alliance wants to get going on the long-delayed project that aims to burn coal cleanly and bury the carbon dioxide emissions in deep underground geological formations, alliance spokesman Lawrence Pacheco said.

"It's important to bring the facility online as quickly as possible in order to have the benefits from the technology," Pacheco said.

According to Griffin, because of the geological requirements, it is "quite clear that not all areas of the state have the Mount Simon (formation) and that it has to be at a certain depth and of a certain thickness. And very few community people are going to know that at this point. The state geological survey may have some idea and some records. That's the first place to screen, but communities are going to have to rely on a lot of outside sources in a very short time to help them screen their site."

But Rob Finley, a senior geologist with the state geological survey who has been involved in FutureGen for several years, said Wednesday by e-mail that he believed the carbon sequestration selection criteria were essentially the same as before, except for an additional requirement that the site be "entirely within the State of Illinois with no risk of subsurface migration of CO2 beyond the Illinois state line."

Other requirements are that underground geological formation be at least 3,500 feet deep, that the proposed surface site be at least 25 acres, that there be at least 1,000 acres of subsurface storage rights, that the site be outside of an earthquake prone area and that it not be on a public access area such as a state or national park and away from any large body of water.

Asked where in Illinois is the best carbon storage site, Coles Together's Griffin responded, "Mattoon."

But she said Coles County officials remain uninterested in FutureGen 2.0.

"We are always interested in a project that resembles the original FutureGen," she said. "We would be willing to start talking tomorrow about a project in Mattoon that meets the needs of this project but also meets the needs of the community."

Meanwhile, officials in Tuscola, about 25 miles south of Champaign, have been watching the evolution of FutureGen 2.0 and remain "curious" about it, said Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc. He said officials there would study the details of the new site selection guidelines before deciding whether to respond to the RFP later this month.

FutureGen's dramatic makeover continued this week with the announcement that two more principal Department of Energy officials responsible for pushing the project are leaving the agency. That brings to four the number of recent departures of DOE officials who worked on FutureGen.

Among them are Undersecretary for Energy Kristina Johnson, senior adviser Matt Rogers and assistant secretary for fossil energy Jim Markowsky. The latter was among a group of DOE officials tossed out of U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson's Washington, D.C., office in August.

"All of them had a direct link to this project," Griffin said. "Their tenure can be so short yet they can have a huge impact on such an important project."