CHAMPAIGN – Local officials were encouraged Thursday by news that the Department of Energy may revive the FutureGen project in Mattoon.
If built, FutureGen would be the world's first clean-coal power plant. The $1.8 billion experimental plant would store its carbon dioxide emissions 7,500 feet below the surface.
The Department of Energy under the Bush administration had shelved the project after promising to fund three-quarters of the cost.
In December, FutureGen Alliance bought more than 400 acres of land as a future site for the proposed plant, encouraged by meetings with President Barack Obama's transition team.
The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that, following a Thursday morning hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters that the FutureGen project, with some modifications, will move forward.
"We've very encouraged that the secretary has taken a look at FutureGen and made a decision to move forward with it," said Michael Mudd, chief executive officer of FutureGen Alliance. "We're looking forward to meeting with the secretary to help with the details."
Calls for comment left at the Department of Energy were not immediately returned Thursday evening.
But in an editorial released Thursday on the department's Web site, Chu stated that "Clean energy is the best opportunity we have to create jobs today and launch the industries of tomorrow."
The economic stimulus bill sets aside $1 billion for fossil energy research.
"With these investments, we will unlock the true potential of solar and wind energy," Chu stated. "We will develop advanced biofuels and learn to use coal in a clean way. ... This strategic investment in clean energy will unleash the innovations that will power our economy for years to come."
In recent weeks, both Rep. Timothy Johnson and Sen. Dick Durbin have asked the Department of Energy to release its Record of Decision on FutureGen.
A Record of Decision is a final public decision that certifies the project meets environmental requirements.
In a letter dated Jan. 29, Durbin, along with a bipartisan group of senators, urged Chu to also release the $1 billion in stimulus funding.
"Once you take this step, the department can move quickly to negotiate a final contract with the FutureGen Alliance so that the project can move toward construction," their letter stated.
Johnson's letter, sent last week, urged similar action.
"A tremendous and significant amount of work and resources have gone into making this project a reality," Johnson stated. "With an environmental impact study already complete and a site already selected, FutureGen is five years ahead of any comparable project. ... By directing $1 billion in fossil energy research toward FutureGen under the stimulus and releasing the Record of Decision, (the Department of Energy) can help create jobs and bring this important technology to fruition."
Phil Bloomer, spokesman for Johnson, said that while Johnson is "guardedly optimistic," he was "obviously encouraged by Secretary Chu's comments today after the committee."
"Tim Johnson made him abundantly aware of the value of this project for our nation as well as this region," Bloomer said.
Earlier this week, the FutureGen Alliance board of directors met with Durbin.
"We look forward to an objective evaluation by the Energy Department," alliance board Chairman Paul Thompson said in a release. "Once they review the project, we believe they will conclude FutureGen at Mattoon is shovel ready and will deliver carbon capture and sequestration technology fastest to the world."