Illinois wins FutureGen

BEATING three other potential sites in two states, the town of Mattoon, Illinois has been chosen as the final home site for the $1.5 billion FutureGen project.
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An artist's impression of the Futuregen Power Plant, courtesy the Futuregen Alliance.

Donna Schmidt

The FutureGen Alliance made the announcement regarding the near-zero emissions coal-fired power generation facility Tuesday morning at the National Press Club in Washington DC, after more than four years of preparation and lobbying by potential site stakeholders.

In addition to Mattoon, the finalist sites selected in July 2006 were Tuscola, Illinois; and Jewett and Odessa, Texas.

FutureGen will be constructed on a 444-acre parcel of land located one mile northwest of the Illinois city, according to Mattoon officials.

“The alliance would like to congratulate Mattoon for being chosen as the final site to host the FutureGen facility," said alliance chief executive Mike Mudd.

“Officials from Mattoon should be commended for their determination and dedication to the FutureGen program."

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich said that the state is "ready to work" to help solidify the facility's success in its new home location.

“This decision represents the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, and we are honoured that the FutureGen Alliance and the US Department of Energy have entrusted us with this groundbreaking project," Blagojevich said.

“FutureGen's 'near zero-emission' coal gasification technology holds great promise to revolutionise our nation's coal industry and ensure that coal continues to be an integral part of our energy future while reducing the greenhouse gases that cause climate change."

Since last year's short list of finalists, Blagojevich said both of Illinois' potential site towns had worked with experts from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's (DCEO) Office of Coal Development, the State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois, the Southern Illinois University and the Illinois Clean Coal Institute – to make its case to both the US Department of Energy and the FutureGen Alliance that the needed factors were in place to call the plant home within the state's boundaries.

He also collected the support of several other coal states, including Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.

“The selection of Mattoon will be finalised upon the Department of Energy's issuance of the National Environmental Policy Act Record of Decision and other DOE contractual formalities," the alliance said of its next steps.

“Completing this massive effort in such a short time is a testament to the teamwork by the DOE, its contractors, the states and the alliance."

The alliance added that over 120 sets of criteria were used to make the final choice.

It also noted the efficiency of the process to date and anticipations going forward.

“The alliance and Illinois will now work together to move FutureGen forward at a continued fast pace to develop this much-needed, first-of-a-kind research and development program,” the alliance said.

“The FutureGen Alliance greatly appreciates the support from Mattoon and the other three candidate sites over the past two years, and looks forward to making the project a reality."

A win for Illinois coal

While the step forward for FutureGen is in itself significant, its importance to the outlook of the Illinois coal industry is just as vital. Upon hearing the announcement, several legislative and industry representatives noted the impact the project will have on the future of the state.

“This is a huge victory in that it will focus international attention on Illinois and the use of Illinois coal," said Illinois US representative Kurt Granberg.

“Our strong coal tradition will be revitalised as we become the home of the cleanest fossil fuel-fired power plant in the world.”

Americans for Balanced Energy executive director Joe Lucas pointed to the technological advancements the establishment of FutureGen will bring to the nation and the world.

“Technology like the FutureGen project will ensure that our abundant coal supply will continue to provide affordable electricity while producing fewer emissions than ever before,” he said.

“We applaud the many people in the FutureGen Alliance who have brought our visions of energy independence one step closer to realisation."

The facility will use integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and capture and store 90% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions expelled, sequestering it in the geological sandstone reservoirs of Mt Simon more than one mile underground.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2010 and the plant to be fully operational by 2013, bringing an estimated 1300 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs. It will produce 275 megawatts of electric power, or enough electricity to power 150,000 homes, as well as hydrogen for fuel-cell technology.

Members of the FutureGen Alliance include American Electric Power, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, the China Huaneng Group, Consol Energy, E.ON US, Foundation Coal, Luminant, Rio Tinto Energy America, Peabody Energy, PPL Corporation, Southern Company and Xstrata Coal.