In a December 19 decision, the ICC endorsed a sourcing agreement proposed by the Illinois Power Agency that requires the state’s largest electric utilities, Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois, to purchase electricity from FutureGen 2.0, the latest incarnation of a project born during the first term of former President George W. Bush, for 20 years. The utilities will be permitted to collect costs for the project on a pro rata basis from alternative retail electric suppliers.

The Retail Energy Supply Association, a national trade group for competitive electric suppliers, strongly opposed the sourcing arrangement, claiming FutureGen’s power will be too expensive. But FutureGen and its backers ultimately won out. Some had warned that an unfavorable vote by the ICC would doom a project that has endured countless delays in recent years.

The ICC said the sourcing agreement “moves the state forward in complying with the Illinois Clean Coal Portfolio Standard, which states as a goal that 25% of the state’s electricity should come from clean coal by 2025.”

Illinois’ two United States senators, Democrat Richard Durbin and his Republican counterpart, Mark Kirk, urged the ICC to approve the FutureGen plan. Durbin also asked U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve the next phase of the project, which could include preliminary design, pre-construction and engineering.

The Department of Energy already has approved $1 billion in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the project. Although FutureGen’s estimated price tag remains around $1.65 billion, Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for the FutureGen Alliance, said the final cost is expected to be less than that.

Alliance members include some major coal and power companies, including Peabody Energy, CONSOL Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, Rio Tinto, Xstrata Coal, Anglo American, Joy Global, Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities. Caterpillar and Exelon, the parent company Commonwealth Edison, have announced their intention to join the group.

Illinois Coal Association President Phil Gonet attended the commission meeting and breathed a sigh of relief following the decision. “I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “Given their response to prior attempts for energy procurement, I wasn’t really that hopeful.” The IPA proposal passed narrowly, 3 to 2. “I think this was a major obstacle they had to overcome, and they did,” Gonet said. The project “gives us an opportunity to advance the technology. We’re in favor of anything that advances clean coal technology and our industry.”

The project involves retrofitting an idled oil-burning unit at Ameren’s Meredosia plant with oxy-combustion technology to capture its carbon dioxide emissions. Then, the CO2 would be sent via an underground pipeline to a permanent storage site about 30 miles away in Morgan County. The site would store up to 1.3 million metric tons of CO2 annually for 30 years.

Two years ago, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation authorizing FutureGen to use eminent domain to acquire any property it needs for the pipeline.