Lawsuit Aimed At FutureGen Pollution Standards
The Sierra Club has filed a federal lawsuit aimed at tightening the pollution controls planned for the FutureGen clean-coal project.
The environmental group argues In the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Springfield that the project needs to meet tougher standards for preventing the release of pollutants into the air.
Jack Darin is director of the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter. He told Lee Enterprises' Springfield Bureau that the group remains skeptical that the project's promise of clean coal is possible.
The $1.3 billion project intends to use primarily federal funds to refit a coal-fired power plant in Meredosia in western Illinois. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant would be pumped underground and stored.
The FutureGen Alliance said it was reviewing the lawsuit.
A partner in the FutureGen clean-coal project in Illinois is withdrawing from the effort within weeks.
The FutureGen Alliance that has included St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. says the utility won't continue its cooperative agreement for the project past the end of this year. The coalition says it is negotiating a plan to buy for the project a portion of a power plant Ameren intends to soon close near the west-central Illinois village of Meredosia.
The alliance also is asking to be allowed to take over an agreement between Ameren and the Energy Department for development of the $1.65 billion project.
Ameren says it will still maintain the plant so it can be retrofitted as planned for the effort, which also includes storing carbon dioxide.
The Department of Energy plans three public hearings next month in Illinois on the FutureGen coal-energy project as it gathers information about the potential environmental impact.
A hearing is planned for June 9 in Jacksonville. That's near the Morgan County site where the project will retool a power plant to use new technology that captures the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from coal and then store it underground.
Hearings also are planned for June 7 in Taylorville and June 8 in Tuscola in eastern Illinois. Those are alternate FutureGen locations.
A group of coal companies and other firms known as the FutureGen Alliance earlier this year picked the Morgan County town of Meredosia for the project. An earlier version of FutureGen planned for eastern Illinois was scrapped.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
The decision to pick Morgan County over three competing sites to host an underground carbon dioxide storage facility was a close one, according to FutureGen Alliance CEO Ken Humphreys.
The site --- announced by the FutureGen Alliance on Monday --- will store carbon dioxide produced at FutureGen's power plant in Meredosia, retrofitted with experimental low-emissions coal burning technology.
Humphreys said Morgan County's geology, and its proximity to the power plant made it a front-runner over competing sites in Christian, Douglas and Fayette counties.
"Any one of these four sites could be, would be amenable to storing the 39 million tons of CO2 from Meredosia," Humphreys said. "If one were to look at possibly expanding the storage site, there might be more differences."
But Humphreys said at this point it is premature to look at expanding the pipeline, adding that major construction should begin within a couple of years.
The site will be located about 30 miles away from the power plant North of Interstate 72 and west of Interstate Highway 123 on the eastern edge of Morgan County. FutureGen officials say this is not a pin pointed spot for the site, additional evaluations will have to be completed. The FutureGen project is expected to bring in 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another thousand jobs for suppliers across the state.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said plans by FutureGen to store carbon dioxide in Morgan County should give the area an economic boost.
"Bringing together all the components of FutureGen 2.0 will be a boost for Morgan County and result in thousands of good-paying jobs," Durbin said. "As host of the storage site, Morgan County will be on the map as a leader in clean coal research and technology attracting visitors from around the world."
While politicians and the business community cheer FutureGen's selection of Morgan County as the storage site, not everyone in the county is pleased with the decision. Andy Davenport owns farmland near FutureGen's selected area. When talks first started on where to put the leftover carbon dioxide he circulated a petition and got more than 300 people to sign. He said for a sparsely populated area, those numbers show people closest to the site do not want it.
"It's just very frustrating to be to have the people's voices ignored that own the land and live on the land out here," Davenport said. "We're going to be the ones that take the risk on this project, not the people in Jacksonville."
Davenport said the farmland he has owned for more than 30 years could be overtaken if the storage facility expands. He also said he is concerned about any environmental impact if the carbon dioxide leaks.
Meanwhile, this is strike two for Douglas County, which earlier lost out on its bid to host the original version of FutureGen.
But Brian Moody of Tuscola Economic Development in Douglas County says the work they did on their site proposal will help them compete for similar sequestration projects expected to come in the future.
"We've got a couple of those that look like they're going to be underway in Illinois," Moody said. "There's a project at ADM already. So we'll kind of wait and see what companies continue to look at the area. And again, I think we have a lot of the information that will spare them a lot of work in their site selection processes."
The U.S. Energy Department is committed to paying most of the cost of the $1.3 billion FutureGen project. The next step for FutureGen is an Energy Department environmental review, including comments from the public.
Developers of the FutureGen project have chosen Morgan County in western Illinois as an underground storage site for carbon dioxide generated by a nearby power plant they plan to refit with experimental low-emissions coal technology.
The FutureGen Alliance told The Associated Press on Monday that it picked Morgan County over sites in Christian, Douglas and Fayette counties. Project planners say the sequestration site will mean more than 1,000 short-term jobs and a few dozen permanent ones.
Carbon dioxide is linked to climate change. CO2 generated at the plant in Meredosia, which is in Morgan County, would be moved to the site through a pipeline that would be built. The current project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental plant in Mattoon.
The wait is nearly over for the four Illinois counties hoping to be the FutureGen clean coal project's carbon dioxide storage site.
The FutureGen Alliance will announce its selection Monday. The alliance is a group of coal companies and other firms working with the U.S. Department of Energy on FutureGen.
The sites in contention are in Christian, Douglas, Fayette and Morgan counties.
Leaders hope the project could bring 1,000 construction and 150 permanent jobs to their communities.
The carbon dioxide would be generated by a power plant in Meredosia the project aims to refit with low-emissions technology. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
The project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental coal plant in Mattoon.
The companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the FutureGen clean-coal project say they've cut the list of six potential carbon dioxide storage sites to four.
The FutureGen Alliance announced Monday the city of Quincy and Pike County north of St. Louis are no longer being considered, but Tuscola in Douglas County is still being considered. Other sites under consideration include Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties.
"This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a press release. "While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology."
Morgan County in western Illinois is the location of the power plant FutureGen plans to refit with newer technology. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant in Meredosia would be piped to the underground storage site. The Energy Department earlier this year scrapped plans to both build a new FutureGen plant and store CO2 in Mattoon.
The FutureGen 2.0 project and pipeline network is expected bring in around 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers across the state.
The alliance said it expects to pick a site in February 2011.
Months after a federal government U-turn in the long-running FutureGen clean-coal project, six Illinois locations have expressed interest in hosting a carbon dioxide storage site that could mean more than 1,000 short-term jobs and a few dozen permanent ones.
The bidders behind one of those locations, though, said Tuesday that their interest is laced with a heavy dose of skepticism after watching what appeared to be politics almost derail the project and then make radical changes in it.
The six locations that submitted bids before Monday's deadline are the city of Quincy; Christian County; the city of Tuscola along with Douglas County; Morgan County; Pike County; and the city of Vandalia along with Fayette County, FutureGen Alliance spokesman Lawrence Pacheco told the Associated Press on Tuesday. The alliance is made up of coal companies and other firms working with the federal government on the project.
"Our team of scientific and engineering experts has already begun review of those proposals, and we look forward to making an announcement on the final site in early 2011,'' FutureGen CEO Ken Humphreys said.
Until earlier this year the plan called for building a new power plant in Mattoon, Ill. and storing the carbon dioxide it produced just outside town. But the Department of Energy decided instead to use $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funding to refit an existing coal-burning Ameren plant in Meredosia, Ill., with different technology and pipe the carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, to another location for underground storage. That site would also become home to an education center to train people to build carbon dioxide pipelines.
The department said that, with delays in the FutureGen project, other projects had already bypassed the technology it had hoped to use in Mattoon.
The project had already been shelved once by the administration of President George W. Bush, only to be revived under President Barack Obama.
Many people in Mattoon tired of what they saw as politics holding up and changing the project, and the town withdrew.
Tuscola was among the four finalists, along with Mattoon, for the original project, and already had in hand much of the environmental and geological testing needed to bid to store the project's carbon dioxide, said Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc. The area is interested, he said, but needs to know more from the Department of Energy about its plans.
"There's definitely a level of cynicism that we all have,'' he said. "It's obvious with the project, once it's gotten out of the site selection process and has been in the political realm, that's where it's had some problems."
"While we're generally supportive of the concept, we still need to know a lot more,'' Moody said. "In order to do that, we need to keep our name in the game."
Looking at the potential jobs, officials in Vandalia aren't nearly as skeptical, Mayor Rick Gottman said.
Unemployment in the area was 10.2 percent in September, the most recent month for which the Illinois Department of Employment Security has data.
Over the past few years, one major employer, Orgill Inc., moved a distribution center and about 140 jobs out of state, Gottman said. Another, Graham Packaging, has reduced its work force from about 800 to roughly 200.
"We're in a high unemployment area right now,'' he said. "We're looking at ways to create jobs.
The land that was to be the site of a futuristic clean-coal burning power plant has been returned to the community of Mattoon.
The area that was to have hosted FutureGen was given back Thursday by the FutureGen Alliance. Mattoon dropped out of plans for FutureGen once they were reconfigured by the Department of Energy. This announcement allows the community to market the 440 acres to other businesses.
Coles Together President Angela Griffin said four companies that are not being disclosed have already toured the land. She said the goal is lure something similar to FutureGen. It is estimated that tens of millions of dollars was spent to survey, engineer, and analyze the area.
Griffin said that money will not be recouped, but is not a total loss.
"The work that was done is still valid and good," Griffin said. "And so we're able to use that - the completed surveys and the completed engineering. And that all has value. I don't think anybody will be able to recover costs for dollars that were spent to characterize the site in any way."
Griffin also said putting a dollar figure on the amount spent would be difficult, since so many entities paid for the work, including the state, city, the FutureGen Alliance, and the Southern Illinois University Clean Coal Review Board. She said this news should provide some relief for Mattoon residents, and remind them they will be kept apprised of any plans for the land.
"I think (Thursdays) news is going to put a lot of relief in the hearts of people who gave one way or another to the FutureGen effort," Griffin said. "The site did return to the community. We do control it now, and we'll able to determine what goes in there, and the community doesn't have to worry that something will happen there that they're opposed to."
An informational meeting regarding the future of the site is planned for Monday morning at 9 at Pagliacci's Restaurant in Mattoon. Meanwhile, the FutureGen Alliance reported that nine communities met Wednesday's deadline to be part of what's called FutureGen 2.0. The host city to be selected early next year will store carbon emissions, working with a power plant in the western Illinois community of Meredosia.
U.S. House Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) said he would discourage communities in his district from further involvement in the FutureGen project.
Johnson railed against the Department of Energy after it re-worked the coal-burning power plant project, ditching plans for a new plant in Matoon and instead calling to retrofit an existing one in Meredosia.
The change infuriated Johnson, who said Coles County leaders spent millions of dollars to bring the original FutureGen to Mattoon. The Energy Department said it changed course because technology that would have been used at a new power plant in Mattoon was already being used elsewhere. Mattoon withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant.
Now, the FutureGen Alliance is looking for a community to host an underground storage site for the plant's carbon dioxide emissions. Johnson said the initial winner of the project -- Mattoon - was cheated out of FutureGen because of the change, and he said communities bidding for the storage site should not get too excited.
"They want to pursue it, I'll help them," Johnson said. "But they ought to be advised that the history of this project has been an absolute disaster from the Bush administration to the Obama administration."
He added that he does not think FutureGen 2.0 will become a reality, saying if it does happen "most communities wouldn't want it."
On Tuesday, the Republican asked a House panel to look into why the new plans for the project did not include a coal-fired power plant in Mattoon, suggesting pay-to-play politics was behind the decision. He argued that an Energy Department official assigned to clean-coal projects is the former head of a firm that was chosen to work on the reconfigured FutureGen.
A spokesman for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said politics appears to be behind Congressman Johnson's call for a review of changes to the FutureGen coal-fired power plant. Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said he wants to know why the Congressman would raise these questions three weeks before an election.
"It certainly raises the question whether he's doing this to get his name in the paper or on the radio, " Shoemaker said. "I don't think this is a serious attempt to get questions answered."
Shoemaker said Johnson has asked questions about the FutureGen project before. Yet, when given the opportunity to meet with the Department of Energy, Shoemaker claimed Johnson refused to meet with the agency's officials.
Johnson shot back, questioning Durbin's own intentions.
"Senator Durbin is the very individual who pulled the plug together with the Department of Energy on a community who had their collective lifeblood in this issue," he said.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.
Communities and companies interested in hosting the CO2 storage site for the FutureGen project now have some details on what they will need to provide.
On Wednesday, the FutureGen Alliance sent out preliminary site selection guidelines for the project. CEO Kenneth Humphreys said this will give potential applicants an idea of the information they will have to provide.
According to the guidelines, the site used to store emissions from the FutureGen coal-fired power plant will need to be able to hold at least 39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years.
All sites must also utilize the Mount Simon sandstone formation, a formation underlying a large part of Illinois and other Great Lakes states. It is considered a good site for long-term CO2 storage.
The site-selection decision also will consider protection of the environment and public health around the site, how cheaply it can be constructed, and the ability to stay on schedule. Local community support also is crucial.
Mattoon, the original choice to host the FutureGen storage hub, withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant. Humphreys said both Mattoon and Tuscola --- a previous FutureGen finalist --- could be viable sites for the storage hub, if they chose to apply.
"I think that should one of the prior sites want to compete in this process, there may be some additional actions they would need to take," said Humphreys. "But they would clearly be competitive, as would many other communities that have raised their hands with an interest."
Humphreys said about two dozen communities and companies have expressed interest in the FutureGen storage hub. Once completed, the facility will hold CO2 piped in from a retro-fitted power plant in the western Illinois town of Meridosia.
Humphreys said a more detailed "Request For Proposals" will come out in a few weeks, and then the applicants will have three weeks to submit their formal proposals. He said they hope to be able to announce a site for CO2 storage in early 2011. Humphreys added that he has heard informally from some two dozen communities and companies that may be interested in applying for the FutureGen storage site.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.