Illinois Public Media News
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says he holds out hope the Department of Energy officials will visit Mattoon despite the community's desire to move on.
The Republican has been urging the DOE to reverse its decision since last week's announcement to make the city a storage site rather than home to a new coal-fired power plant. Johnson says Department Assistant Secretary James Markowski made a commitment to him Tuesday that Energy Secretary Steven Chu would still come to Mattoon. "He said he said he'd come here, so I can only take him at his word." said Johnson. "However, given the lack of credibity of the Department of Energy in this whole decision making process, their lack of transparency and lack of communication with me, I've come to not believe anything they would tell me. So the fact he said he would come, or at least his undersecretary said he'd come, is just about as believable as the fact he told us in April he'd keep us posted on an hour by hour basis."
Johnson has called the Department of Energy's decision an 'absolute betrayal' of lawmakers like him that have pushed for the FutureGen project for years. He says Coles Together made the right decision to reject the new FutureGen, adding that the reconfigured project involving a power plant in Western Illinois likely won't happen either. Johnson calls FutureGen 2.0 a bureaucratic effort to 'kick the can further down the road.
The head of a Coles County economic development group says her community is bowing out of the FutureGen project if it doesn't revert back to its original form.
In a letter to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin released today, Coles Together director Angela Griffin says the community is almost unanimously against the revised plan for the experimental power generation project as revised last week by the Department of Energy. Griffin writes that the site chosen for FutureGen is best suited for the original proposal of a coal-burning power plant matched with an underground carbon sequestration facility. The new FutureGen plan would use only the underground repository, with the carbon dioxide piped in from existing coal-burning plants that are retrofitted with another new technology. Durbin also said a training facility for the new oxy-combustion technique would be built on the site where the power plant would have gone, but no funding was committed for that facility.
In the letter, Griffin writes that "we agreed to host what was presented as the world's first near-zero emissions research and demonstration facility - the latest in power generation technology paired with underground storage for the facility's greenhouse gas emissions." But she adds that "unfortunately, our role in FutureGen 2.0 does not support that effort. If FutureGen 2.0 moves ahead with the revised structure described today, it must be without Coles County."
Speaking with Illinois Public Media, Griffin also said that public opinion had turned almost unanimously against Coles County's participation. "We didn't believe -- and the community certainly didn't believe -- that the tradeoff in giving up the site and all of the work and engineering and surveying and studying that had been done out there was worth the carbon storage facility that DOE was proposing, that there could be many more uses for that site," Griffin said.
Durbin issued a written statement Wednesday afternoon saying he was disappointed by Mattoon's decision to drop out of FutureGen. He also wrote that he is soliciting proposals from other Illinois communities that would offer to host the CO2-storage facility. Durbin wrote, "I wish cost overruns, project delays and rapid advances in science in other parts of the country had not necessitated a change in the FutureGen project. But we must face reality."
The overhauled FutureGen proposal would shave $100 million off the $1.2 billion price tag. But soon after Durbin announced the change, local lawmakers and 15th District Congressman Tim Johnson slammed the change, saying they weren't informed and that Mattoon was given only one week to decide whether to proceed. They also derided the underground CO2-storage facility as a dumping ground for outside pollution.
Mattoon's decision to drop out ends several years of lobbying for FutureGen. The area won the project in late 2007, beating out Tuscola and two Texas locations. But soon after that announcement, the Energy Department scuttled the project out of cost concerns. It was revived by the Obama administration the following year, but last week Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said technology had already passed the original FutureGen proposal by, and that retrofitting existing plants with oxy-combustion technology would be a wiser and more effective way to spend the stimulus funds earmarked for FutureGen.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is demanding that Mattoon officials decide by the end of the week whether they want to be part of the revised FutureGen clean-coal project.
Durbin made the demand Monday in a letter to Angela Griffin. She leads the Coles Together economic development group in Coles County. "We need to make sure that we understand exactly what FutureGen 2.0 represents," said Griffin. "We need to make sure that we've considered everthing - that we haven't eliminated something from consideration that's important. We need to consider the immediate impact, and we need to consider the long-term impact. This project as presented has several faces to it, and we need to consider what DOE's (The Department of Energy's) long-term plans are for a carbon storage system in Mattoon." But Griffin says she holds no ill will towards Senator Durbin, who she notes worked for this project and the Mattoon community for years, at a time when many others in Washington turned their backs on it.
Until last week FutureGen included a power plant to be built in Mattoon with carbon dioxide from its coal stored underground. The Department of Energy now wants to retrofit a plant across the state in Meredosia. Mattoon would store carbon dioxide from that plant. The department has said it needs to finalize revisions by Sept. 30 to use $1.1 billion in stimulus funds. Durbin says the Department of Energy needs to find a new carbon storage site if Mattoon isn't interested. Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says his request to meet with Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the changes has been turned down.
The FutureGen project has taken a completely new turn -- and the bottom line is that Mattoon will not be hosting a power plant.
Instead, Senator Dick Durbin says the Department of Energy's new plan for the project is to retrofit an existing coal-fired power plant in western Illinois with a process called oxy-combustion. That process is designed to reduce CO2 emissions from the plant - what DOES get emitted would be sent by a brand new pipeline to Mattoon, where it would be stored in the underground facility that was already proposed for that site.
Durbin says Mattoon will still host a major portion of the FutureGen project - just not a freestanding power plant.
"It really made no sense to say we're going to build a power plant to prove what's already being tested in three of four different commercial facilities. That happens when you wait six years," Durbin told reporters Thursday afternoon. "So we tried to pick a technology that had a future, for retrofitting power plants and creating a pipeline that would be of value."
Durbin says the change will reduce the price tag to $1.2 billion, some of it contributed by the alliance of power and coal companies in FutureGen. He says plant retrofitting and pipeline work could begin next spring - the underground pipeline would use existing easements, some of them already containing pipelines.
Senator Durbin also says instead of the plant, Mattoon site would hold a training facility for experts to retrofit many other coal-fired plants across the country over time. But he says funding for that facility has not yet been lined up.
Champaign County Board members will take at least a month to review the prospect of a coal mine located below farmland in the southeast part of the county.
The County Board's Committee of the Whole has asked County Zoning Administrator John Hall to look into what other counties have done to locate and zone mines. Board members tabled discussion on the issue until September. It is still not clear if the county's zoning ordinance would have to be amended, or could block the mine. Terre Haute-based Sunrise Coal has started purchasing mineral rights for locating a mine on Champaign County's border with Vermilion County, in an area south of Homer. County Board member Steve Beckett said doing some homework away from board meetings will let members make some headway on the issue.
"Right now, we have this loosey-goosey collection of anecdotal comments from board members who've had phone calls with people and worried public, etc," said Beckett. "And it's almost as if we're like this little knitting circle, and 'let's all talk about mining and how terrible it is.' I don't find that to be very fruitful and helpful to me as a board member."
Critics of the plan include Vermilion County farmer Charles Goodall. He said he believes the resulting waste water from washing coal on site would leave toxic elements in the soil and groundwater. A resident of Broadlands, Heather Soder, said she wants Sunrise to be more upfront about its plans for waste products in the mine, and its impact on well water.
Soder said she spoke with someone from the company who could not answer her questions. Sunrise has not returned calls to comment.
Construction will start this month on a wind farm along the McLean and Woodford County lines.
Invenergy is building 100 wind turbines, producing 150 megawatts of power. Central Region Development Vice President Bryan Schueler says the company is working with contractors on a start date. He won't disclose the cost of the project.
The project was approved three years ago, but a group opposed to the wind farm sued over the zoning process. That lawsuit was settled in late 2008, but it took more time for Invenergy to find financing.
Meanwhile, Horizon Wind Energy has filed for a special use permit to build its third wind farm in central Illinois. That project is proposed for northeastern McLean County between Colfax, Lexington and Chenoa.
For the past several weeks, farmers in Champaign and Vermilion County have been talking about an Indiana coal company's interest in opening an underground coal mine under farmland at the Champaign-Vermilion border. Now a group of farmers and others critical of the idea are inviting the public to learn more at a meeting on Thursday night.
Sunrise Coal of Terre Haute is not represented on the list of speakers. That's the company that has been talking with landowners about mineral rights for an area located between Homer and Allerton. Instead, the meeting will feature environmental groups, and others concerned about how the mine would impact the area.
Vermilion County farmer Charles Goodall, one of the meeting organizers, says there are other mines in the area, but this is the first that would go underneath prime farmland. Goodall says Sunrise plans to wash coal on site, and the resulting waste water --- or slurry water --- would carry toxic elements from the coal.
"And the disposal would be either by dumping it in local streams, or by injecting it underground", says Goodall. "In either case, it can have an immediate or long-term impact by decreasing the amount of clean groundwater available to people both in their farms, but also available to villages that have groundwater based systems"
Goodall says he's also s worried that Sunrise coal may use ""longwall" mining techniques to extract the coal. "And that type of mining immediately drops bathtub-shaped ponds at the surface", according to Goodall. "And Illinois does not prohibit long-wall mining. So it's something that has to be included in each lease, as a type of mining not permitted by the lessor, the person who owns the land."
Longwall mining is just one technique that Sunrise Coal could use, if it builds an underground mine at the Champaign-Vermilion site. The coal company has not yet responded to a call for comment.
The public meeting about the proposed mine starts at 7 PM Thursday night at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, north of Broadlands.
The University of Illinois plans to use nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money on a center to train people to improve the energy efficiency of low-income residents' homes.
The university says it received a more than $959,000 grant for the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program. It will be run by the university's Building Research Council. The council already offers classes on weatherizing homes.
Council instructor Paul Francisco says the money will help train workers to improve home energy efficiency.
University of Illinois administrators will renew their efforts to place a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.
In 2005, the U of I had initially sought three turbines for the south farms. Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steve Sonka says cost overruns caused former Chancellor Richard Herman to put the project on hold. But administrators are now asking the Clean Energy Community Foundation to extend a $2 million grant for the turbine. The grant was set to expire July 1st... but Sonka says administrators should be able to extend the use of those funds for enough time to get the turbine in place. Sonka says turbine costs have gone down, and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter was supportive of what the U of I would make back on a single turbine over time. "Chancellor Easter asked the F&S (Facilities and Services) people to look at the return, and for our portion of the investment, it's a reasonably attractive financial and energy saving environmental return," said Sonka. "A simple payback period 7 to 8 years is pretty attractive for a capital investment."
Sonka says the campus has undertaken many energy saving projects since 2005, including the replacement of inefficient heating and cooling systems - and pursing the turbine now makes sense. The grant would be partnered with funds from a $500,000 student fee, and Sonka says U of I would sell bonds to cover the remaining cost, around $2 million. Sonka says a new state procurement law taking effect in July also forces the university to wait until then to send out requests for proposals. Members of the U of I Student Sustainability Committee applauded the move. President Suhail Barot says the turbine is another factor that will help move forward the campus climate action plan of reducing energy use by 40% by the year 2025.
The University of Illinois is the first in the Big Ten to draft a long-term plan to make the campus more sustainable.
The ambitious plan calls for an end to the use of coal to provide power on the Urbana campus within seven years. It also proposes a 40 percent reduction in energy use by the year 2025 and a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. The plan is part of a nationwide effort by college campuses to make climate-action plans.
Dick Warner heads UIIUC's Office of Sustainability. He says higher education is the perfect place to begin concentrating on stemming climate change.
"I think the most important impact a decade from now will be the way these issues and concepts are in the minds of students who come here and then move onto their next chapter as citizens somewhere," Warner said. "So the way that we teach about this and behave about this is very important."
The U of I's biggest electricity and steam-heating source is the coal-fired Abbott Power Plant. Warner says in two years, the campus will add more specific details to the plan, but Abbott could either be converted to another power source or closed altogether. He says the plant needs $177 million in deferred maintenance.
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