The Obama administration has pulled the plug on the FutureGen 2.0 “clean-coal” power plant slated to be built in central Illinois.
Ken Humphreys, CEO of the FutureGen Alliance developing the project, said in a statement today, “The U.S. Department of Energy has directed the suspension of FutureGen 2.0 project development activities. The DOE has concluded that there is insufficient time to complete the project before federal funding expires in September 2015.”
The Obama administration earmarked $1 billion in federal funds from the stimulus law enacted in 2009 for FutureGen. The project slowly made progress securing permits and negotiating an arrangement with the state of Illinois to require electricity consumers statewide to finance the remaining costs of the $1.7 billion plant.
The 200-megawatt facility, aimed at showcasing technologies to capture carbon emitted by coal combustion and bury the greenhouse, was slated to be built in Meredosia. Its completion was a high priority of former Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.
Exelon, the state’s biggest power generator and the largest nuclear power producer in the U.S., is an opponent.
“FutureGen 2.0 is the only project in the world that demonstrates oxy-combustion technology and fully integrates deep saline geographic storage,” Humphreys wrote. “Our hope is that industry and government will continue to find ways to develop (carbon capture and storage) technology for a cleaner, more secure energy future.” (Read the full statement below.)
The sudden demise brings to a close a project that had been on the drawing board for a decade, survived a previous DOE decision to kill it (under the Bush administration) and been dramatically scaled back as costs escalated to construct a much larger version.
In the end, the Energy Department decided there wasn’t enough time, and there were still outstanding questions about financing and the legal status of forcing Illinois consumers to pay higher electric bills to support the project, to ensure FutureGen would get far enough along before federal funding expired Sept. 30.
“In order to best protect taxpayer interests, the Department of Energy has initiated a structured closeout of federal support for the project that will help maximize the value of investments to date while minimizing ongoing risks and further costs,” DOE spokesman William Gibbons said in an emailed statement. “While this is an unfortunate outcome, the department acquired valuable information and tangible benefits from the work accomplished to date.”
The feds have spent a little over $200 million of the $1.1 billion authorized for FutureGen.
In a statement, Durbin sounded resigned. “This is a huge disappointment for both Central Illinois and supporters of clean coal technology,” he said. “A decade-long bipartisan effort made certain that federal funding was available for the FutureGen Alliance to engage in a large-scale carbon-capture demonstration project. But, the project has always depended on a private commitment and can’t go forward without it.”
Illinois politicians battled hard to bring the demonstration plant to the state. In late 2007, DOE awarded a much larger version of the plant to the state for a site in downstate Mattoon over a competing proposal by Texas. The Bush administration pulled the plug just one month later, citing soaring costs.
Barack Obama’s victory in November 2008 breathed new life into FutureGen, and it was officially revived in June 2009. In 2010, the scaled-back version—FutureGen 2.0—was granted more than $1 billion of funding from the stimulus law aimed at supporting the economy during the worst of the Great Recession.
More recently, the project ran into controversy over Quinn’s plan to impose a 20-year surcharge of a little over a dollar a month on electric bills statewide to cover the remainder of the project’s costs. Chicago-based Exelon, originally a supporter of FutureGen, reversed that support in early 2013 and supported a legal challenge to the state’s plan.
The plan had survived legal challenges. But the Illinois Supreme Court late last year agreed to take up the appeal, made by an association of retail power suppliers operating in Illinois.