Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

FutureGen Alliance Agrees to Energy Department Changes

Companies that have worked with the U.S. Department of Energy in its bid to build an experimental coal power plant and store its carbon dioxide have decided to stick with the project, but the consortium said that a series of terms and conditions will have to be met this fall.

The Alliance wants to build and operate a pipeline that would be part of recent Energy Department changes, and they want to run the site where carbon dioxide would be stored underground. Alliance Board Chairman Steve Winberg said in a press release that the group is pleased that the federal government and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been able to preserve the $1 billion in funding for advancing clean coal technologies and associated jobs.

"We look forward to working with them and our new partners in making FutureGen 2.0 a success," said Winberg. The original FutureGen was to include a power plant near Mattoon, but the Department of Energy replaced the idea with plans for a new plant there for storing emissions. The new so-called clean coal project will now involve a retrofitted power plant in Western Illinois. Mattoon withdrew from the project after the change.

Meanwhile, the economic official who led Mattoon's effort to lure and develop the original FutureGen project calls the Alliance a group of great partners with high integrity. Coles Together President Angela Griffin says she wishes the companies all the best as they plan FutureGen 2.0. She says the Alliance is investing in the project for the right reasons - bringing a billion-dollar project to Illinois. But Griffin says it's unclear what exactly the Department of Energy will be seeking in a new community to house a carbon storage facility. She cites a press release put out by the DOE last week for interested communities.

"There were no site parameters or project parameters that the communities could then look at that would then say whether or not they were eligible," said Griffin. "Now, largely in that press release it talked about 10 square miles of subsurface, and I think 100 miles from the Meredosia plant. But other than that, I don't know that communites have received any direction about what they need to have in terms of site features in order to apply."

Griffin says she spoke with the mayor of Marshall, who expressed interest in luring the new FutureGen facility. And she says the mayor of Taylorville had also shown interest. But Griffin says she hasn't endorsed any community to host the new carbon storage facility. Griffin says her group may cross paths again with the FutureGen Alliance, as economic officials in Mattoon pursue development of technologies at the city's site that address greenhouse gas emissions. And Alliance Chairman Steve Winberg says the site in Mattoon is 'excellent' for future commercial development.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2010

Gas Leak Affects Downtown Champaign During Noon Hour

A gas leak in Champaign prompted the re-routing of cars and pedestrian traffic for about 90 minutes Friday.

Lieutenant John Millls with the Champaign Fire Department says an excavator hit a plastic line under the railroad tracks east of the Illinois Terminal building. The gas could be smelled for blocks when the line was hit just past 11:30, and a couple of businesses had to be evacuated. Mills says a crew was able to shut off a valve at Water and Chester streets just past 1. Firefighters left the scene at 1:15, and turned the scene over to Ameren for further repairs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

New Plans for FutureGen Lead Some to Question Its Fate

New revisions in the Department of Energy's FutureGen project has led one local lawmaker to question its viability.

The DOE had already scrapped a new clean coal power plant for Mattoon, in favor of a retrofitted plant in western Illinois. The DOE is also looking for a new site for underground carbon dioxide sequestration, after Mattoon decided to withdraw from FutureGen. Under the latest revised plans, the underground storage site needs ten acres of land --- about five times the size of the Mattoon site. State Representative Chapin Rose --- whose district includes Mattoon --- said the Energy Department's changes threaten to ruin FutureGen

"How on earth are they going to secure the easement for these property owners for a 10-square mile area," asked Rose, who said FutureGen was at one point a good idea. "I don't think the thing's ever going to happen."

The DOE wants to begin construction of the FutureGen project by 2012, but needs to produce an environmental impact report on the storage site first. John Thompson with the non-profit Clean Air Task Force said that alone could take up to three years. He said he wants FutureGen to succeed, but he is concerned the latest changes to the plan may put it in jeopardy.

"If they need to take more time to find the right storage site, they need to do that," said Thompson. "But what's happened over the last month or so is a number of changes that are occurring very quickly without careful consideration, and that needs to change."

A new storage site must be picked before September 30, the deadline when the federal government can dedicate billion of dollars in stimulus funds for FutureGen.

Thompson said he believes the DOE should carefully review the best possible storage fields across the state before it makes a decision, even if it means determining that a nearby power plant would be a better fit for the new oxy-combustion technique rather than the Meredosia plant.

Categories: Energy, Environment, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 20, 2010

Raising Awareness About Devastating Flood in Pakistan

The devastation caused by the flooding in Pakistan is clear - 20 million people affected. That is more than the combined populations of Illinois and Indiana. Reports put the dead at 1,600. Asma Faiz is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. Faiz recently returned from Islamabad, and she spoke to Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn about the importance of raising awareness and support for the country.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Environment, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Other Illinois Communities Taking a Second Look at FutureGen 2.0

Add Decatur and Springfield to the list of Illinois towns thinking about bidding for a role in the reworked FutureGen clean-coal project.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office says a number of towns have inquired since Mattoon declined to become an underground storage site for carbon dioxide from a retrofitted coal plant in western Illinois. Durbin's office won't say which towns.

Mayor Mike McElroy says Decatur is looking into how many jobs the project might bring.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin says the capital city will take a hard look, too.

The Department of Energy last week announced radical changes in FutureGen. Plans to build a new power plant in Mattoon were scrapped in favor of retrofitting an old plant in Meredosia.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2010

Tuscola Says it May Revive Its Interest in FutureGen

The Illinois community that was runner-up to Mattoon in the race to get the original FutureGen project has submitted its interest in the revamped version of the pollution-control project.

But the head of Tuscola Economic Development, Brian Moody, says local leaders need a lot more information on what's now being called FutureGen 2.0. Instead of a brand new coal-burning power plant, the project now involves piping carbon dioxide emissions from other power plants to an underground storage facility. On Wednes+day Mattoon leaders backed out of FutureGen, saying public opinion is against hosting only the CO2 storage site.

Moody says his community needs to know if Douglas County residents would want the site - and if the US Department of Energy will follow through.

"Folks feel like, can we trust any of these folks or not?" Moody said. "To me it's largely about what will they put in writing and what they can solidly commit to, and is that a potential positive for this area."

Moody says raw emotions have led some area lawmakers to call the underground storage concept a dumping ground - he says it's already happening in the Tuscola area with natural gas storage and a coal-burning generator at a local chemical plant.

Moody says Tuscola would have to draft a new plan since they don't have an option on the land once proposed for FutureGen.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 11, 2010

Coles Together: Mattoon Says No to FutureGen 2.0

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 07, 2010

Urbana Congressman Vents Frustration Over Reconfigured FutureGen

Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says he's 'more than upset' with the Obama administration for what he calls an absolute betrayal of what has been promised for FutureGen.

The Republican says the revamped agreement to make Mattoon a repository for underground storage of carbon emissions, rather than the home to a clean-coal burning plant, shows 'a lack of credibility' from colleagues who had support the original project the last few years. Johnson says he's hoping to set up a meeting with US Energy Secretary Steven Chu next week, with hopes he'll reconsider. "We don't know exactly what the cost is going to be, but it's definable enough that we can go ahead with the project as promised," said Johnson. "As a matter of fact, we just got a letter within the last day or two from I-EPA indicating that they were going full speed with the project. So this came as a complete suprise to us, and it came as a complete surprise to everybody in the delegation apparently with the exception of Senator (Dick) Durbin."

Johnson says the Illinois US Senator had plenty of time to take credit for FutureGen's original plan... but has now become someone he can't count on. The Congressman says Republican colleagues Mark Kirk and John Shimkus are also upset with the revamped plan. Meanwhile, the chairman of the consortium of energy companies supporting the FutureGen project said it was ready to go ahead with the revised plans. Steven Winberg of the FutureGen Alliance says they look forward to "moving the project to the new phase", and working with the Energy Department and officials in Coles County to better understand the new plan's "details and merits".


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 05, 2010

Durbin: FutureGen a Go, But Without a Mattoon Power Plant

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Champaign County Board Wants More Info on Coal Mines Elsewhere

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.


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