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FutureGen developers say they’ll try to save project




MATTOON, Ill.

Developers who hope to build an experimental central Illinois power plant say they’ll try to work with the White House and the Department of Energy to get the project back on track.

The power and coal companies known as the FutureGen Alliance will also work with Congress to get money for the $1.8 billion project, said Paul Thompson, chairman of the developer’s group.

“We always want to keep the door open,” FutureGen Chief Executive Officer Mike Mudd said last week after two days of alliance board meetings in Mattoon. “If that does not come to a fruitful conclusion, we will work with Congress.”

Those talks aren’t happening right now, Mudd and Thompson said. Thompson said he requested early in January to meet with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman but has gotten no response.

Bodman, meanwhile, faced questioning from Congress on Wednesday about the agency’s decision last week to pull out of the project, taking with it its commitment to fund three-quarters of the cost.

A DOE spokeswoman said the agency was willing talk with the FutureGen Alliance about its plan to restructure FutureGen, which it announced last week. The agency has so far asked for industry feedback on what it says could be several power plants across the country.

“While the department continues to maintain open lines of communication on this important matter, we believe the decision to restructure FutureGen is the best path forward to demonstrate and commercialize advanced carbon capture and storage technology,” spokeswoman Julie Ruggiero said in an e-mail.

She did not address Thompson’s request for a meeting with Bodman.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said last week he has put together a team of economic and energy staffers to help develop proposals aimed at bringing a FutureGen project to Kentucky.

FutureGen is intended to prove a power plant can use coal to generate electricity while capturing the carbon dioxide in the fuel and storing it underground to keep it out of the atmosphere.

Government and industry, until last week, had worked together, with the DOE covering 74 percent of the cost and the FutureGen Alliance covering the other 26 percent and building the plant.

The alliance chose Mattoon in December over three other sites – Tuscola, just north of Mattoon, and two sites in Texas. The project would create thousands of jobs during construction, and 150 once the plant opens.

The DOE and the alliance say they talked about the project’s escalating costs much of last year.

When announced by the government in 2003, FutureGen was billed as a $950 million project, meaning the Energy Department obligation was $800 million.

The current price tag, the alliance says, is due to the rising cost of building materials.

On Capitol Hill on Feb. 6, several senators questioned Bodman about the decision to back away from the project during a Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing.

“It was recently scrapped because – the information I got was – it cost too much money,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat. “Now we’re coming back with another program. … We’re adding money to the budget now for this, and it looks to me like last week it costs too much and next week it’s a good project.”

Bodman said his agency and the FutureGen Alliance talked about restructuring the financial terms of their arrangement. But he said the alliance’s proposal last month to use outside financing to cover any additional cost increases – and using the plant as collateral – put the plant’s future at risk.

“That’s the reason we have focused on identifying those utilities” interested in the department’s new clean-coal proposal, Bodman said.

The alliance has argued that financing is commonplace in many DOE projects.

The committee doesn’t include any members of Illinois’ congressional delegation, led by Sen. Dick Durbin.

Durbin said last week that members of Congress from some other states have expressed anger over the DOE’s decision, giving him optimism he could get money from Congress to keep FutureGen on track.


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