Saturday, June 13, 2009

Obama restarts cleaner-coal plant Bush killed

As expected, the Obama administration has given new life to FutureGen, a project in the president's home state of Illinois to build a coal-fired power plant designed to capture and store most of its carbon-dioxide emissions. But the $1 billion investment doesn't mean the plant will be built; that decision will be made "after design plans, detailed cost estimates and a new funding structure is worked out" with coal and utility companies that are co-sponsors, reports Kimberly Kindy of The Washington Post.

The original plan called for capturing 90 percent of the carbon dioxide. That "has been changed to between 60 and 90 percent," Kindy reports. The administration of President George W. Bush canceled the project in 2007 after the private firms chose Mattoon, Ill., as the site for the plant over two sites in Bush's home state of Texas, Kindy notes. (Encarta map) "The Illinois delegation, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, launched a fierce battle to save it. Bush administration officials said rising costs caused them to abandon the commercial-scale plant and replace it with plans to build several smaller plants that will also test and develop the carbon-capture technology." (Read more)

"It will take up to four years to bring the 275 megawatt power plant into operation," reports Herb Meeker of the Journal-Gazette and Times-Courier of Mattoon and nearby Charleston. "A well at the site, which covers more than 400 acres, will pump the greenhouse gases more than 6,000 feet underground for long-term storage in geologic deposits." (Read more)

UPDATE, June 17: The decision "is getting poor reviews from environmentalists," Ben Geman reports on The New York Times' Greenwire blog. "The purpose of FutureGen was to test technologies that could later be deployed on a commercial scale," John Thompson of the Clean Air Task Force told Geman. "Yet in moving from a 90 percent to 60 percent threshold, the project will achieve levels that are no higher, and maybe even lower, than several commercial projects already at advanced stages of development." A Department of Energy spokeswoman "noted that the original goal of 90 percent remains but that the earlier level to begin with would help the project," Geman reports.

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