COAL:

Enviros fault scaled-back FutureGen carbon goal

The Energy Department's scaled-back goal for capturing carbon at the proposed FutureGen coal-fired power project is getting poor reviews from environmentalists.

DOE last week reversed a Bush-era decision by unveiling tentative plans to proceed with the federal-industry project to build a prototype coal plant in Mattoon, Ill., that would trap and store carbon dioxide emissions.

The new plan calls for an initial carbon-capture goal of 60 percent, but with a design that would allow an upgrade to 90 percent. The original Bush administration plan had called for a 90 percent capture goal.

The Clean Air Task Force issued a statement over the weekend saying the revised carbon goal transforms FutureGen into "YesterGen." Other environmentalists also criticized the revision.

"The purpose of FutureGen was to test technologies that could later be deployed on a commercial scale," said John Thompson, who directs the task force's Coal Transition Project. "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."

Stephanie Mueller, a DOE spokeswoman, noted that the original goal of 90 percent remains but that the earlier level to begin with would help the project. "The increase over time is meant to improve reliability in the initial stages of the project," she said in an e-mail yesterday.

Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for the FutureGen Alliance, a consortium of coal and utility companies working to build the plant, said the decision was made as part of an effort to reduce "technical risk" and cut project costs, which are currently estimated at $2.4 billion.

DOE has pledged slightly more than $1 billion for the project. The agreement announced Friday calls for restarted design work, industry financial planning and other actions to be conducted through early next year.

DOE said that after finishing a detailed cost estimate and industry fundraising, the parties will decide early next year whether to build or abandon the project aimed at integrating coal gasification and carbon capture and sequestration.

If the project is ultimately approved, Pacheco said the alliance would begin materials procurement and construction next year and begin operating the plant in 2013 or 2014. The industry group's members include American Electric Power Co. Inc., Southern Co., Foundation Coal Corp., Consol Energy Inc. and other U.S. and international companies.

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