Monday, June 29, 2009


Coal is important to the Ohio River Valley. Just count the number of coal-fired power plants along the river or see how many coal barges you see moving on the river or (lately) tied up along its banks.

Thus, two items regarding FutureGen -- the clean coal demonstration plant planned for Illinois -- have caught my eye.

Today on the New York Times Web site is an opinion piece on FutureGen, and it's not favorable. Here are the first two paragraphs:

WHILE President Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal to reduce greenhouse gases has been the big topic of recent environmental debate, the White House has also been pushing a futuristic federal project to build a power plant that burns coal without any greenhouse gases. Sounds great, right? Except the idea is a rehash of a proposal that went bust the first time around.

More important, the technology already exists to make huge reductions in greenhouse emissions from coal, allowing power companies to begin cutting the carbon footprint of coal today. Instead, advanced-technology coal power sits on the shelf while regulators wait to see what happens with a project that may be just an expensive boondoggle.

The other news item came last week, when AEP and Suthern Co. said they were pulling out of FutureGen. It should be noted that AEP wants to build two or three low-emission coal plants that would do much the same as FutureGen, but it can build and bring them on line must faster than FutureGen can do.

This is from the Reuters story:

"AEP and Southern were both told that to continue participation in FutureGen, each company would have to fund the project by $5 million for the next four to six years," AEP spokesman Pat Hemlepp told Reuters.

"That's up to $30 million we think we can spend better elsewhere," said Hemlepp. "We have so many other climate change programs we can spend the money on that would have gone to FutureGen, like the Mountaineer plant in West Virginia."

But there were already questions about FutureGen's goals. Two weeks ago, environmental groups were questioning whether FutureGen's revised goal of 60 percent carbon capture versus the original goal of 90 percent had damaged the value of the project, according to the NYT.

FutureGen has promise, but it has all the possibility of being an expensive, forgotten experiment such as the H-Coal plant at Catlettsburg KY during the Carter administration. The question is whether private utilities will move faster on building cleaner coal-fired power plants than those that are in use now.

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