Illinois Statehouse News has learned that board members from the FutureGen Alliance, a multinational coalition of energy companies,
will meet Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to decide if it will remain
partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a clean coal
plant in Illinois.
"When the Department of Energy decided to
switch plans, it caused all of the pieces (of the alliance) to be
re-evaluated," said Marcelyn Love, spokeswoman for the Illinois
Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. "They will decide
whether they will remain (with the federal government)."
Conflict arose earlier this month when Department of Energy
officials decided to turn what was supposed to be a new clean coal
facility in Mattoon into a waste repository. Mattoon officials
balked at the deal.
"There was no head's up," said Angela Griffin of Coles Together,
which had been helping Mattoon coordinate the deal.
The department did not consult with local officials, who spent
millions conducting environmental reviews and other measures to
attract the project, before making its decision. Mattoon Mayor Tim
Gover said he was not contacted once by federal authorities to
discuss the plans.
"I could have told them that this was unacceptable," he said. "It
would have been helpful, preferable, if we had a little advanced
Mattoon's rejection of the department's policy shift led to the
relocation of the project to Meredosia, a town of 1,000 in central
Illinois. The change in locales may not have proved as damaging as
the government's selection of a company outside of the FutureGen
Alliance to spearhead the project.
The department will spend billions retrofitting an oil fire unit
at the Meredosia Power Plant to produce clean coal. Ameren, which
owns the plant, began talks with the government earlier in the
summer to retrofit the plant. Details about when the project will
begin remain ambiguous, however.
"We don't even have a contract," said Susan Gallagher with Ameren
Illinois. "We're in a silent period."
Local officials are enduring some silence of their own.
"They didn't fill us in on a lot of the details," said Kenneth
Scott, mayor of Meredosia. "They're hoping to have the details by
the end of September."
Scott said he received a call from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office
letting him know of the department's decision on Aug. 5 -- the same
day officials in Mattoon discovered the change of plans.
"It was the first I heard of (FutureGen)," he said.
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The Department of Energy is moving forward with its plans, as
"As we stated on Aug. 5, we are planning to award $1 billion in
Recovery Act funding to the FutureGen Alliance, Ameren Energy
Resources, Babcock & Wilcox, and Air Liquide Process & Construction
Inc. for the FutureGen 2.0 project," department spokeswoman
Stephanie Mueller said.
While the money may be flowing in as scheduled, progress has been
delayed yet again.
"It's dead in the water," said Phil Bloomer, spokesman for U.S.
Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill.
The plant was supposed to be up and running by 2012. Officials
now say the project will not break ground until that date.
Gallagher said if Ameren reaches a deal with the department,
there will be a six-month planning period to review engineering,
design and cost of the project. She says the company can bypass the
environmental review process that Mattoon spent 18 months
The FutureGen project has been plagued by delays amid
disorientation. Two companies and the Australian government
abandoned the alliance since President Barack Obama reversed a Bush
administration decision to halt the project. A withdrawal of private
support for the program could prove devastating for the future of
clean coal in Illinois.
"We were ready to break ground in days, if not weeks," said Phil
Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association. "To have the plug
pulled again ... to switch projects is tough."
Calls to FutureGen board members were not immediately returned.
Statehouse News; By BILL McMORRIS]