Buying the old Meredosia plant, which St. Louis-based Ameren has announced plans to close, became a necessity for the Alliance after Ameren unexpectedly withdrew from the project, citing financial considerations.

The Alliance hopes to retrofit the plant with oxy-combustion technology and capture its carbon dioxide emissions. The CO2 would be transported via an underground pipeline more than 30 miles to a storage site in Morgan County.

In its early days, more than five years ago, FutureGen was billed as a $1.8 billion, 275-megawatt, near-zero emissions project planned for Mattoon, Ill. But federal funding for the project was canceled in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. The Obama administration, in large part as a result of heavy lobbying by U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, retooled, relocated and downsized the project.

Until recently, FutureGen 2.0 was estimated to cost about $1.3 billion, of which the Department of Energy has committed about $1 billion in economic stimulus funds. But the price tag continues to rise. On November 28, the Alliance said the cost estimate now is $1.65 billion, including $1.1 billion to repower the Meredosia generating unit, and $550 million for the pipeline and storage site.

“Contingent upon DoE’s approval, we have an opportunity to lead the entire program, build on potential cost savings, and bring the power plant on-line in 2016 as planned,” said Ken Humphreys, CEO of the Alliance. However, the Alliance was facing a December 31, 2011, deadline to submit the project’s revised plans to DoE, which has come under fire for questionable energy loans, most notably the $528 million it provided to bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra in California.

While FutureGen officials and project supporters said they were confident the project will move forward, others were more skeptical. “Ever since the Mattoon site fell apart, it has been a joke,” one well-placed Illinois official who asked not to be identified said about FutureGen. “You’re going to buy an old plant just to prove you can put carbon in the ground. We already know we can do that.”

Illinois politicians continue to support FutureGen, at least outwardly. A spokesman for Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, said the state’s chief executive “is strongly committed to bringing FutureGen to Illinois. The project will bring many good jobs to Illinois and put our state on the international clean coal map while continuing to promote the use of Illinois’ coal resources in ways that protect both consumers and the environment.”