Chu believes FutureGen project has merit

 
Published3/31/2009 12:01 AM

WASHINGTON -- A proposal to build a futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the Bush Administration has merit, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday.

Chu wants to work with FutureGen's developers to chart a path forward, said Department of Energy spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller.

 

"Secretary Chu believes that investment in carbon capture and storage research and development is critical to meeting our energy and climate change challenges," Mueller said in a statement after Chu met Monday with members of the FutureGen Alliance. ".... Secretary Chu believes that the FutureGen proposal has real merit."

The gathering was the first time Chu met with supporters of the project, who have pitched FutureGen as a cutting-edge attempt to burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground.

The plant was to be built in Mattoon, Ill., but the Energy Department halted plans after a faulty cost analysis put the price at $500 million higher than it should have been.

Monday's meeting was designed to give FutureGen supporters an opportunity to listen to Chu's ideas for how to move FutureGen plans forward, said Alliance spokesman Lawrence Pacheco.

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"It's very important for the alliance to meet with the secretary and they're very thankful for him to take the time hear from us about the project," Pacheco said.

The FutureGen Alliance will meet again with Chu and staffers at the Department of Energy, Mueller said.

The Bush Administration effectively shelved FutureGen after projections showed massive cost overruns. Chu has been somewhat equivocal about his support for FutureGen, but has expressed willingness to revive it if a feasible plan is presented. He has also said the project's mission is vital to fighting climate change.

Members of Illinois' congressional delegation and other coal-producing states are strong backers of FutureGen. In January, Senators from Illinois, Missouri and Ohio sent a letter to Chu urging him to revive the project.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said on Monday that he was hopeful Chu would craft a way for FutureGen to move forward.

"I've been through so much with this; I'm realistic," he said after an unrelated news conference in Chicago. "I'm trying to be measured. I think I can make a strong case for it. But the bottom line is I'm just hopeful the secretary agrees with me."

Local leaders viewed the proposed $1.8 billion project as a potential boon for Mattoon when the Energy Department announced it in 2007. Residents heralded its announcement with a marquee reading "We won" after the central Illinois city beat out two other potential sites in Texas.

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