FutureGen project canceled

By Gus Bode

Plans for an experimental power plant in central Illinois praised by state and university officials as a research opportunity capable of rejuvenating the state’s ailing coal industry were abruptly canceled Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced it would restructure the FutureGen project, a plan to build a coal-fired plant that would capture its carbon dioxide emissions and store them underground. The department said it would nix plans to build an experimental plant in Mattoon, a city in central Illinois, and instead develop carbon capture and storage technology in several commercial plants across the nation.

John Mead, director of the SIUC Coal Research Center, said the center was involved in bringing the project, known as FutureGen, to Illinois. Once constructed, Mead said he hoped the center could participate in research at the plant.


“We hope that it will be available for experimental projects,” he said.

The Department of Energy announced Wednesday it would remove its support from the $1.8 billion project, which nearly doubled in price since it was first announced. The department had originally agreed to pay for three-quarters of the construction of the power plant.

A release from the DOE Wednesday said it would restructure the FutureGen project.

Plans to build the plant in Mattoon were announced last month. The central Illinois community was one of four finalists, including Tuscola and two locations in Texas.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman deceived Illinois residents by “creating false hope in a FutureGen project which he has no intention of funding or supporting.”

Durbin, along with Sen. Barack Obama and seven other members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation, sent a letter to President George Bush asking him to keep the project in Mattoon. Bush voiced support for the development of clean coal technology in his State of the Union address Monday night.

Mead said the Mattoon site was a good choice for housing the plant partly because of its geology, which had optimal conditions for storing the carbon dioxide. The city also proposed an effective plan for supplying the water needed to run the plant, he said.


Regardless of the DOE’s statements about FutureGen, Mead said he was confident recent advances in coal-power technology would not go unused.

“It’s disappointing to see DOE’s lack of commitment right now, but projects change,” he said. “The state of Illinois has a great team. I think it’s been demonstrated that Illinois has an outstanding site, that Illinois ought to be the center of activity for this kind of new technology.”

SIU President Glenn Poshard said in a statement the university played a major role in the effort to bring the project to Illinois and he was disappointed with the department’s decision to restructure the initiative. Collaborations between the public and private sectors like FutureGen are necessary for the U.S. to attain its energy and environmental objectives, the statement said.

“The decision to site the FutureGen plant in Mattoon was made by some of the largest energy corporations in America, not government,” Poshard said in the statement. “It would be my hope, of course, that the Department of Energy would honor that decision.”

Joe Crawford can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected].