UPDATE: FutureGen project is dead

By Gary Scott on February 3, 2015 at 3:25pm

FutureGen CEO Ken Humphreys announced a “winding down” of major development activities with the carbon-capture energy project that’s been years in the making Tuesday after he says the Department of Energy made the decision to suspend federal co-funding.

In a statement, the DOE says it has “initiated a structured closeout of federal support for the project”. Citing delays “largely unrelated to its design or technology”, department officials say FutureGen will be unable to meet deadlines before available federal funding set aside by Congress expires.

Humphreys calls the decision “extremely disappointing.”

“There is no project of its type that has made more progress than FutureGen 2.0. The community has been extremely supportive. We’ve locked up land rights. We’ve got all our major permits. We’ve been successful in defending several appeals of those permits, and the outlook was very favorable with the exception of this legislative constraint that relates to a federal spending deadline,” says Humphreys.

FutureGen was estimated to cost $1.7 billion to complete. About $1 billion of that would have come from the Department of Energy, while the remaining money would have come from private funds. The DOE says about $200-million has been spent on the power plant and storage site projects.

FutureGen planned to retrofit a former Ameren power plant in Meredosia and run liquefied carbon dioxide through a pipeline across Morgan County. The CO2 would then be stored a mile underground in the northeastern part of the county.

The Department of Energy indicated in a press release that the project faced several hurdles, including the acquisition of the appropriate state permits.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin added in a press release that FutureGen ran into trouble securing a private-sector loan and difficulties with two major industry partners, Air Liquid and Babcock and Wilcox.

The FutureGen Alliance is comprised of multiple national and international power companies, mainly ones involved in the coal industry.

This is the second time the Department of Energy has pulled the plug on the FutureGen project, as it did so first in January 2008.

Plans that included the ‘Dosh Ameren plant were revived in June 2009; city leaders in Mattoon, where the original site was proposed, dropped their support for FutureGen after that. Morgan County was selected in February 2011 for the sequestration site after competing with three other Illinois counties.

Humphreys weighs in on the possibility of picking another site.

“We’re always thinking about what our alternatives and options are. I would say that we have no intent- it’s, in fact, hard to imagine that the project would be built anywhere else,” he says. “It either happens in Morgan County, or, as it appears at the moment, it won’t happen.”

Reaction has been pouring in from Jacksonville to Chicago to Washington on Tuesday’s announcement.

In a statement, Senator Durbin said, “A decade-long bipartisan effort made certain that federal funding was available” for the project, but he notes the project “has always depended on a private commitment and can’t go forward without it.”

Durbin goes on to say, “I worked on FutureGen 2.0 believing it would create jobs in Illinois and demonstrate a viable environmentally acceptable use of coal to generate electricity.”

Despite getting approval from the state EPA in the form of permits for the injection wells at the
underground storage site and to store the CO2 underground, the project saw new hurdles develop in 2014.

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear a case last November where it would consider if Illinois utilities must buy electricity from FutureGen after the Illinois Commerce Commission issued a ruling in 2012 requiring utilities like ComEd and Ameren to sign 20-year contracts.

In addition, the Sierra Club filed a suit against FutureGen late last year, seeking tougher permits to control the potential release of pollutants. Emily Rosenwasser with the Sierra Club says the project never lived up to the promise that was being sold to the West Central Illinois community.

“There was no accountability in its permit to actually be a zero-emission facility, or to not emit really dangerous pollutants like NOx [mono-nitrogen oxides] and sulfur dioxide,” she says.

“There’s a well-documented shift away from fossil fuels in our country, and the Department of Energy pulling funding for this project- [which] was really kind of a speculative and risky bet- frees up a lot of funds for clean energy investments that are going to help create jobs in Illinois and grow clean energy economy here,” continues Rosenwasser.

However, local officials are sad to see the prospect of potential new jobs leave the area.

FutureGen had cited a University of Illinois study that said more than 16-hundred direct and indirect Illinois jobs would be created at peak construction, while there’d be 400 jobs in Morgan County over the life of the project.

Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard holds out hope that something can be done to save it.

“I think there’s some politics in play here. I think we need to get to our local representatives and have a chat, and let’s get this thing back on board,” Ezard says. “We’re hoping to still try, but if they say at the end of the day or a week from now or two weeks from now that this is not going to happen, then we’ll just have to swallow that pill and move on to something else.”

Part of the FutureGen plan was to build a $20-million visitor’s center in Jacksonville’s Community Park on a five-acre tract of land.

“The Department of Energy has known for a long time that there’s no way that that project could have gotten done by September 2015, building a training and visitor’s center and everything. It’s February 2015,” he says.

City officials had hoped the visitor’s center would include a new dispatching center for the Jacksonville Police Department and possibly the other two dispatch services in Morgan County, but that was never confirmed to be included in the plan.

The Department of Energy in a press release yesterday indicated they’ll retain the rights to the northeastern Morgan County drill site, where a characterization well has already been drilled. Stay with WLDS-WEAI News as we continue to cover those aspects of this story and more that develop.