Canton Repository

July 26, 2006

FutureGen won’t be built in Ohio

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON A state bid to put an innovative $1 billion coal-burning power plant in Tuscarawas County failed to make it to the finalist stage because of weaknesses and uncertainties at the site, organizers of the nationwide competition said. Ohio officials learned Tuesday that both of its proposals — the one in Tuscarawas County and another in Meigs County — were among eight across the country that lost out.

The FutureGen Alliance, which plans to build the world’s first near-zero emissions plant, chose four sites in Mattoon and Tuscola, Ill., and Jewett and Odessa, Texas, as finalists.

FutureGen officials said those sites shared advantages such as plentiful land, proximity to electrical transmission lines, and thick sandstone for the storage of wastes generated by energy production.

During the next year, the four will compete for the grand prize — selection as the location for a model coal-burning plant that is scheduled to open in 2012 and would release virtually no greenhouse gases or pollutants.

Ohio officials questioned the alliance’s initial report on Tuscarawas County, which they said seemed to contradict experts who prepared the state’s proposals. The report said the Meigs County bid failed to meet basic criteria, while the Tuscarawas site “apparently received relatively low scores in several categories,” according to Mark R. Shanahan, executive director of the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority.

The alliance sent Shanahan two brief reports explaining why the sites didn’t make the cut.

Shanahan said the explanation raises questions that he hopes to get answered through further discussions with the alliance.

The alliance is a nonprofit organization made up of some of the world’s leading energy companies, including American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio. The alliance is partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy to design and build the facility.

One criticism of the Tuscarawas County proposal in the report is the “very large number of residences” — 10,000 to 20,000 — above the area where the state proposed locating underground storage for carbon dioxide the plant will generate. The report, signed by Mike Mudd, chief executive officer of the FutureGen Alliance, said it would be difficult to construct a power plant at the site “given its configuration and topography.”

Shanahan took issue with that complaint. He said WorleyParsons, the engineering firm the state hired to author the proposals, “didn’t think it was an obstacle.”

“It seems that our WorleyParsons team evaluated the criteria in question differently than the FutureGen Industrial Alliance,” he said.

The alliance also said the site had inadequate access to water for power plant operation.

Shanahan said the engineering firm determined sufficient water could be pulled from either the Muskingum River or wells.

The report also questioned whether the site had the type of geologic formation needed to store carbon dioxide. Even if the proposed storage area were adequate, it would be near the Gnadenhutten Historic Park, another mark against it, the alliance said.

The site received low scores for its proximity to sensitive areas, distance to electrical transmission lines and ability to meet other requirements.

Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, whose congressional district includes the Tuscarawas site, said he was “extremely disappointed” that it did not make the cut. But he said he looked forward to “continuing to work with local officials to take what they’ve done and put it towards pursuing other opportunities.”

Shanahan said the state spent $750,000 preparing the proposals, which also benefited from local government efforts provided without charge.

Insisting that the money and effort were not wasted, he said they put the state in a better position to profit from new energy technologies.

“We think we have some sites that are just tremendous for future energy development,” he said.

FutureGen officials said many of the competing sites that failed to meet the “stringent” standards for the initial experimental plant might qualify for similar minimal-emission plants in the future.

Ohio also would benefit because it is a leading coal producer and user, and the FutureGen plant will be designed to burn both Eastern and Western types of coal.

Mudd insisted politics played no part in the decision, which he said was based on an evaluation using almost 100 technical criteria.