DOE pulls plug on FutureGen coal project

By Jeffrey Tomich | 02/04/2015 08:26 AM EST

The Obama administration has pulled the plug on FutureGen 2.0 — the second iteration of a project conceived more than a decade ago to blaze a trail for the continued use of coal amid growing concern about climate change.

The $1.68 billion project called for retrofitting a 65-year-old coal-fueled power plant in west-central Illinois to capture carbon dioxide emissions, which would be stored 4,000 feet underground in a geologic saline formation.

The plant was expected to begin operation in 2017. But the Department of Energy notified the project developers this week to halt work after determining there’s too little time to complete construction before $1 billion in federal funding expires in September.


Ken Humphreys, CEO of the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, a group of coal producers and a mining equipment company, said the loss of federal funding made it impossible for work to continue.

"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 in an emailed statement.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a champion of FutureGen since its inception, called the decision a "huge disappointment for both central Illinois and supporters of clean coal technology."

"A decadelong bipartisan effort made certain that federal funding was available for the FutureGen Alliance to engage in a large-scale carbon-capture demonstration project," Durbin said in a statement. "But, the project has always depended on a private commitment and can’t go forward without it."

The announcement was applauded by environmental groups including the Sierra Club, which filed a legal challenge as recently as December to stop the project from moving forward.

"This project has gone through a decade of false starts and with today’s announcement, $1 billion in federal funding and hundreds of thousands of dollars in Illinois ratepayer financing can be freed up for investment in clean energy," said Holly Bender, deputy director of the group’s Beyond Coal campaign, in a statement.

The original FutureGen project was conceived in 2003 by the George W. Bush administration, which canceled it five years later because of soaring costs.

FutureGen 2.0 was proposed by the Obama administration using $1 billion in stimulus funding.

But as recently as last summer, Humphreys expressed concern about ongoing legal challenges that threatened to put a chill on needed financing for the project (EnergyWire, Aug. 15, 2014).