Stalled Carbon Capture Coal Plant in Ill. Wins Approval

By Kimberly Kindy Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 2009; 1:24 PM

The U.S. Department of Energy committed today to spend $1 billion in economic stimulus funds to restart plans for a controversial coal-fired power plant that promises to capture 60 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions and trap them underground.

The announcement, which would provide about half the funds needed to design and construct the research plant, does not mean it will ultimately be built. Energy officials said that decision will be made in early 2010 after design plans, detailed cost estimates and a new funding structure are worked out with a group of private energy companies and investors.

"The FutureGen project holds great promise as a flagship facility to demonstrate carbon capture and storage at commercial scale," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. "Developing this technology is critically important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and around the world."

The plant and its historic partnership with the private companies, called the FutureGen Alliance, was created and heavily promoted worldwide by the Bush administration for years until officials abruptly killed the project in late 2007.

The decision came after the FutureGen Alliance chose Mattoon, Ill., as the site for the plant over two other finalists in Texas, the home state of President George W. Bush. The Illinois delegation -- including then-senator Barack Obama -- launched a fierce battle to save the plant. Bush administration officials said rising costs caused them to abandon the commercial-scale plant and replace it with plans to build several smaller plants that would also test and develop the carbon-capture technology.

Chu has said he hopes to move forward with both commercial-size and small-scale plants.

Changes to the original vision for the FutureGen plant at Mattoon are still being discussed, but Alliance officials and members of the Illinois delegation said today that the promise of capturing 90 percent of emissions has now been changed to a broader range between 60 and 90 percent.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, (D-Ill.), who led the battle to restart FutureGen, said he believes that the project will be built.

"I think the thing to remember is we never gave up," Durbin said. "We are picking up where we left off."

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