By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
CHICAGO, Dec. 18 -- A small Illinois town was chosen as the site of the world's first near-zero-emissions coal-burning plant Tuesday by the public-private alliance carrying out the project. Construction of the plant continues to be delayed, however, by concerns over its costs.
Mattoon, Ill., beat out another Illinois contender and two Texas towns as the home for the FutureGen plant, which will use the coal-gasification process to produce electricity and commercial-grade hydrogen, capturing and storing carbon dioxide in a liquid-like form underground.
The decision was made by the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, a nonprofit consortium of multinational coal and energy companies. The U.S. Department of Energy is paying for three-quarters of the projected $1.8 billion gross cost, with the alliance picking up the rest of the tab. But final approval of the site by the Energy Department has been delayed amid concerns over costs that have risen to nearly double the project's original $950 million price tag. The department has called for increased private investment to cover escalating costs. The alliance had no comment on budget issues.
"With the issue of climate change at the top of Congress' agenda and on the minds of many policy-makers around the globe, FutureGen and its continued progress toward advancing new technologies such as carbon capture and storage is more important than ever," the alliance said in its announcement Tuesday.
The United Mine Workers of America's Illinois members are "very excited" by the decision, UMWA International representative Gary Butler said. Illinois' coal industry took a nose dive in the early 1990s because the state's high-sulfur coal made it difficult for plants to meet air quality standards. FutureGen will be able to burn such coal cleanly, according to the alliance.
Mattoon, a town of 18,000 in central Illinois, was chosen for geologic formations conducive to storing the carbon dioxide, water resources and the ease of acquiring land.