After a spirited competition among several coal states to host the original FutureGen gasification project, Mattoon, in Coles County, Ill., beat out three other site finalists in southern Illinois and Texas. In early 2008, Mattoon’s hopes of a FutureGen-spawned economic development revival came crashing down when Bush’s Department of Energy, in a surprise decision, scrapped funding for the project. The Obama administration restored those hopes with the promise of at least $1 billion in stimulus money to complement private dollars invested by members of the FutureGen Industrial Alliance.
Then came August 5 and Mattoon’s dreams were dashed again, this time apparently for good, when U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL, and the DoE announced FutureGen was being revamped. Gone were plans to use gasification technology in a brand new 275-megawatt, nearly $2 billion coal plant that would have been built on a 400-acre site just west of Mattoon. Instead, Durbin and the DoE unveiled FutureGen 2.0, to be located at Ameren Corp.’s idled Meredosia power plant in Morgan County, Ill., about 150 miles from Mattoon.
In its latest incarnation, the $1.247 billion FutureGen 2.0—$1 billion would come from the federal government with private funds making up the rest—would use oxy-coal carbon capture technology developed by Babcock & Wilcox in collaboration with Air Liquide Process & Construction Inc. Meredosia would be retrofitted and the carbon dioxide emitted during coal burning captured and transported via pipeline to Mattoon for storage underground.
“This investment in the world’s first, commercial-scale, oxy-combustion power plant will help to open up the over $300 billion market for coal unit repowering,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.
Only one problem: Mattoon said no.
Up against a deadline to say whether it still wanted to be part of the reworked FutureGen, a disconsolate Mattoon, albeit with more than a trace of reluctance, bowed out. “It is with great disappointment that I must inform you the citizens, neighbors near the site, business leaders, and community leaders in Coles County are nearly unanimous in the belief the pursuit of FutureGen 2.0, as proposed, is not in our best interest,” said Angela Griffin, president, Coles County. Together, a local group formed several years ago to promote the original project, wrote in a letter to Durbin. “Unfortunately, the revised $1.2 billion project does not provide for the highest and best use of a Mattoon site that top scientists, researchers and engineers have determined to be the best location in the nation for a clean coal facility and on-site carbon capture and sequestration research.”
The decision by Mattoon and Coles County to walk away from the several dozen jobs that conceivably would be created by a local sequestration facility and training center for plant retrofitting left the DoE scrambling. But other Illinois communities quickly considered stepping into the breach. By late August, Decatur and Springfield were mulling participation in FutureGen 2.0, as was Tuscola, one of the original finalists in 2003.