Illinois sites pass environmental muster

Decision near on site for $1.75 billion power plant

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Boys & Girls Club

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Brian Moody says folks have gotten used to winning in the east-central Illinois town of Tuscola, where the Warriors are readying for the state football semifinals in their bid to repeat as Class 1A football champs. But the town of 4,500 also has its sights on a title that's about bragging rights well beyond school pride.

In a sweepstakes against nearby Mattoon and two Texas sites, Tuscola is courting an experimental, $1.75 billion power plant that could mean about 1,300 jobs during its construction and another 150 permanent jobs once it's operational in 2012.

All the finalist sites, including Jewett and Odessa in Texas, cleared their latest hurdle last week, when the Department of Energy deemed each location environmentally fit for the coveted public-private project known as FutureGen.

After the required 30-day waiting period, the FutureGen Industrial Alliance Inc. is expected to announce sometime after Dec. 17 who gets the 275-megawatt power plant officials say could be a prototype for future nonpolluting electrical generation systems.

As Tuscola's economic development chief, Moody says the plant belongs in coal-rich Illinois - preferably in Tuscola, of course, though he wouldn't be overly miffed if Mattoon, just 20 miles to the south, got the nod.

"I think we have a great site," Moody said Monday by telephone. "The Illinois sites both really possess strong qualities that make it very obvious that Illinois is the right choice for FutureGen."

Messages left Monday with several Mattoon administrators were not immediately returned.

Mica Matsoff, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, on Monday called last week's environmental announcement "an important milestone in the process of moving forward on FutureGen, and the Illinois case continues to build."

FutureGen, in the works since 2003, would be a prototype plant that its developers - a consortium of coal and power companies and the Department of Energy - say would have almost no emissions. Instead, the carbon dioxide it generates would be injected into sandstone deposits deep underground.

Illinois is offering $82 million to the FutureGen developers - a consortium of coal and power companies and the Department of Energy - that includes $17 million in grants, a $50 million low-interest loan and $15 million in tax breaks under a measure Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed in July.

Matching a perk Texas already had on the books, the legislation included an agreement that the state would protect FutureGen from liability due to accidents or injuries.

Illinois officials also argue that easy access to coal weighs in the state's favor, and the job of "sequestering" pollution underground will be simpler because Illinois isn't riddled with oil and natural gas wells that could allow the gas to escape.

Texas has countered that its oil and gas industry is familiar with pumping carbon dioxide underground as a means of forcing oil and gas to the surface, giving the state and its work force expertise in a key part of the FutureGen process.

"Whether the plant winds up in Texas or Illinois, the real beneficiaries of the project will be future generations that will have cleaner and affordable electricity from coal - the world's most abundant energy source," said Greg Walker, the FutureGen alliance's board chairman.


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