Plan for Car­bon Stor­age Dropped

En­ergy Dept. Scraps Fu­tureGen Al­liance

The Washington Post - - National News - By Steven Mufson

The En­ergy De­part­ment said yes­ter­day that it would ask for new pro­pos­als from com­pa­nies seek­ing fed­eral aid for cap­tur­ing and stor­ing car­bon diox­ide re­leased by coal-fired power plants, of­fi­cially shelv­ing the Fu­tureGen Al­liance project that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion had sup­ported for five years.

Michael J. Mudd, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Fu­tureGen Al­liance, said that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion would set back the timetable for car­bon cap­ture and stor­age tech­nol­ogy that is con­sid­ered es­sen­tial for meet­ing tar­gets for green­house gas emis­sions.

“It took four years to get to where we are to­day,” Mudd said, cit­ing fi­nanc­ing needs, project de­sign and the prepa­ra­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ments.

Deputy En­ergy Sec­re­tary Clay Sell said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was drop­ping the Fu­tureGen Al­liance project be­cause costs for the planned 275-megawatt coal-fired plant had risen to $1.8 bil­lion and be­cause of ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy. In­stead, the de­part­ment said it would be will­ing to pay the cost of adding car­bon cap­ture and stor­age tech­nol­ogy to new or ex­ist­ing coal plants big­ger than 300 megawatts. Sell said that would lead to mul­ti­ple projects and more se­ques­tra­tion.

Sell said Bush’s fis­cal 2009 bud­get pro­posal would seek $648 mil­lion for coal tech­nol­ogy, a 25 per­cent in­crease.

The Fu­tureGen project, a non­profit ven­ture that in­cluded 13 util­i­ties and coal com­pa­nies, in­volved con­struc­tion of a plant that would turn coal to gas, strip out and store un­der­ground the car­bon diox­ide that con­trib­utes to cli­mate change, and then burn the re­main­ing gas to pro­duce elec­tric­ity and hy­dro­gen. The in­dus­try group was to pay 26 per­cent of costs, and the En­ergy De­part­ment was to cover 74 per­cent.

As re­cently as De­cem­ber, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were call­ing it a “cen­ter­piece” of their strat­egy for clean coal tech­nolo­gies.

Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club lawyer who has been fight­ing to stop new coal plants, said the flap over ris­ing costs showed that so­lar and wind en­ergy are more com­pet­i­tive than coal ad­vo­cates say they are.

In De­cem­ber, Fu­tureGen se­lected Mat­toon, Ill., as the project’s site over three other fi­nal­ists, two of which were in Texas.

Mem­bers of Congress from Illi­nois blasted the En­ergy De­part­ment’s de­ci­sion, ques­tion­ing whether it would have been made if the project had been awarded to one of the fi­nal­ist sites from Texas, Bush’s home state. Illi­nois GOP law­mak­ers ap­pealed to Bush yes­ter­day, but in a tele­phone call with Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Ti­mothy V. John­son (R-Ill.), the pres­i­dent said he was stand­ing by En­ergy Sec­re­tary Samuel W. Bod­man.

In a con­fer­ence call, Sell said the Illi­nois law­mak­ers “want to at­tack and be­rate the de­part­ment for not pro­ceed­ing . . . just so they can see a few hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars wasted in their dis­tricts.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said that the En­ergy De­part­ment’s new plan “can­not be taken se­ri­ously.” He said project ap­pli­ca­tions are due in De­cem­ber, weeks be­fore the ad­min­is­tra­tion leaves of­fice. “It makes no sense,” Durbin said.

Sell said that the de­part­ment’s con­cern about costs date to last spring. He com­plained that the in­dus­try group’s plan to bor­row money against the plant put tax­pay­ers at risk. But Mudd said that banks ac­cepted the plant as col­lat­eral, pos­ing no risk to tax­pay­ers. He said that Fu­tureGen’s private part­ners had agreed to cover half of any cost over­runs.

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