The Department of Energy is terminating financing of the FutureGen 2.0 project, ending construction plans for one of the most expensive and high-profile carbon capture proposals in the world.
In a statement yesterday, FutureGen Alliance CEO Ken Humphreys said that DOE decided to suspend planned funds for the "clean" coal plant because there is not enough time to complete the project before a required deadline under the 2009 federal stimulus package. DOE had pledged $1 billion to complete the $1.65 billion initiative.
"The DOE has concluded that there is insufficient time to complete the project before federal funding expires in September 2015. Despite the Alliance’s commitment to advancing carbon capture and storage technology and cleaner energy from coal, as well as our belief that there are solutions to address the impending deadline, the Alliance must comply with DOE’s directive," Humphreys said.
He added that the alliance — the project’s developer — continues to believe in CCS technology as a way to control global carbon emissions. "FutureGen 2.0 is the only project in the world that demonstrates oxy-combustion technology and fully integrates deep saline geologic storage. Our hope is that industry and government will continue to find ways to develop CCS technology for a cleaner, more secure energy future," he said.
A letter sent from Humphreys to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — which was posted on the Crain’s Chicago Business website and was confirmed as legitimate by an alliance official — urged the department to "consider a path forward that supports continued progress that allows completion of a funding expiration solution." But FutureGen developers will have to suspend work if there is not department funding, according to the official.
FutureGen had been in the works for more than a decade after its unveiling by the George W. Bush administration as a proposed zero-emissions coal plant. It was canceled and then revived as a smaller 168-megawatt retrofit of a generator near Meredosia, Ill., that would capture 90 percent of its CO2 emissions.
The coal plant was a focus of DOE’s carbon-capture program and received the first-ever Class VI permits from U.S. EPA in September 2014 for underground injection of CO2, as well as more than $9 million from the state of Illinois. The project also began preliminary construction work last year.
However, FutureGen faced several lawsuits and challenges that dampened prospects for obtaining more than $600 million in needed nonfederal funds, in addition to DOE’s pledged $1 billion. For instance, Illinois landowners were challenging the Class VI permits, and the Sierra Club filed a court appeal last year claiming that the state air permit for the plant was invalid (ClimateWire, Dec. 15, 2014).
In a statement, DOE spokesman Bill Gibbons said FutureGen "secured notable achievements" such as the completion of test monitoring wells that will support the department’s broader portfolio of clean coal projects. "While this is an unfortunate outcome, the Department acquired valuable information and tangible benefits from the work accomplished to date," he said.
Of the original $1.1 billion awarded to the project, approximately $116.5 million since 2010 was invested for work on the power plant, DOE said.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity slammed the closeout notice, considering that CCS technology was cited in EPA’s new performance standards rule.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — a longtime FutureGen supporter — said in a statement that the announcement was a huge disappointment for both central Illinois and supporters of CCS technology but added that he was encouraged that the FutureGen site in Morgan County, Ill., might still provide an underground CO2 sequestration opportunity for other projects. "I am hopeful that Illinois will continue to play an integral role in developing this technology," Durbin said.
With the termination of FutureGen, there are a handful of remaining planned projects that would capture CO2 at scale from a coal plant when they come online, including Southern Co.’s Kemper plant in Mississippi. Last year, SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Power Station in Canada became the first large coal plant globally to capture the majority of its emissions.
Reporter Manuel Quiñones contributed.