Monday, February 28, 2011

FutureGen picks a new storage site

By Jamey Dunn

Morgan County was chosen as the underground carbon storage site for a revamped version of the FutureGen “clean coal” project.

Kenneth Humphreys, chief executive officer for the Future Gen Alliance, the group of investors and administrators of the project, announced today that the site in western Illinois beat the other finalist sites in Douglas, Christian and Fayette counties.

The FutureGen project originally called for a high tech coal power plant to be built near Mattoon in Coles County, and carbon produced by the plant was to be stored underground in the surrounding area. The site was chosen in 2007, but as costs rose, the new plant was scrapped. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced “FutureGen 2.0” last summer, which called for the retrofitting of an existing out-of-commission Ameren plant in Meredosia. (For more on the back story of the project, see Illinois Issues, October 2010.) The carbon from the plant would be pumped through a subterranean pipeline to be stored underground in an area with the proper geological conditions. Mattoon dropped out of the plan after it was announced that it would only serve as a carbon storage site, and about 30 other Illinois communities expressed interest in taking its place, according to Humphreys.

Since both the new storage site and the power plant are in Morgan County, Humphreys said fewer miles of pipeline would be needed to pump carbon dioxide to the area where it will be sequestered, and the project would cost less. About 32 miles of pipeline would be needed, and the site would take an estimated 39 million tons of carbon from the plant over the next 30 years. The geological conditions in Morgan County are similar to the original site in Coles County — a permeable layer sandstone and a several-hundred-feet-thick layer of shale, which will act as a cap over the stored carbon. “When the final numbers get crunched, I think everyone is going to be much more comfortable [with the new site].” He said the retrofitting to the plant along with the pipeline and storage facility would cost $1.3 billion. The federal government is slated to provide $1 billion for the project.

"FutureGen 2.0 will ensure that Illinois continues to lead the nation and world in the development of clean energy, and today’s announcement represents a major step towards completing this historic project,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a written statement.

Humphreys admitting that “there’s always a possibility” that something could go wrong with the plans to use the Morgan County site, such as an unforeseen environmental problem or administrative issue with getting the proper permits, but he is optimistic about the site. FutureGen has had several false starts and hit bureaucratic snags in the past, but Humphreys said he is “optimistic” about the new proposal. The Christian and Douglas county locations will serve as alternates in case the Morgan site does not pan out.

Humphreys said there has been some local opposition, but the alliance has made compromises, such as agreeing to move the site away from the village of Alexander. He says alliance members plan to continue talks with local officials and residents. “We believe that there is a path forward with the stakeholders,” he said. According to the alliance, fieldwork on the sequestration site will begin this summer. Humphreys said the “major heavy construction” on the site and the power plant is scheduled to start in the spring of 2013.


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