DOE cancels clean-coal plant project

The decision stunned
officials in Illinois.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Energy Department on Wednesday canceled a futuristic, virtually emissions-free coal plant scheduled to be built in Illinois, saying it preferred to spend the money on a handful of projects around the country that would demonstrate the capture and burial of carbon dioxide from commercial power plants.

“This restructuring ... is an all-around better deal for Americans,” said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman in making the announcement to scuttle the FutureGen program.

Bodman said the Energy Department would solicit industry applications for participation in the new carbon capture projects. The idea is for the government to pay for building the carbon capture and storage facilities and industry to build the modern coal-burning power plant. Each project would be designed to capture 1 million metric tons of CO2, the leading greenhouse gas linked to global warming, officials said.

The shift has stunned officials in Illinois, where an industry group announced in December it would build the $1.8 billion FutureGen plant, three-fourths of which was being paid for by the federal government — funds now no longer available.

The FutureGen program was envisioned as a unique research project that would trigger development of a virtually pollution-free coal plant where carbon dioxide emissions would be captured and buried deep beneath the earth. It would produce both electricity and hydrogen.

First proposed nearly a decade ago with an estimated cost of just under $1 billion, its cost has soared to nearly double that. The project for years had trouble getting adequate funds, and some critics long ago dubbed it “Never Gen.” But in 2003, President Bush hailed it as a potential breakthrough in clean coal technology and a key to eventually achieve wider use of hydrogen as a fuel.

The FutureGen Alliance issued a statement saying it “remains committed to keeping FutureGen on track” but it was unclear how that would be possible without the federal funding.