Times Reporters

July 20, 2006

Politics won't have role in FutureGen site selection

By Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – The industry-government coalition planning to build a revolutionary clean-coal power plant will announce its short list of potential sites next week, FutureGen Alliance executive Michael Mudd said Wednesday.

Two Ohio sites, in Tuscarawas and Meigs counties, are among 12 locations in seven states that have been proposed for the estimated $1 billion plant, which will seek to make coal gasification technology more efficient, more economical and nearly free of potentially harmful air emissions.

Mudd and FutureGen technical advisors briefed reporters on the selection process after similar briefings for congressional aides. Mudd declined to say how many sites would be on the reduced list, although alliance officials earlier suggested that it would be limited to three to five locations.

Selection for the FutureGen plant would bring the chosen location an estimated 1,300 temporary construction jobs and about 150 long-term research and operating positions, plus associated economic activities.

Announcement of the finalists next Tuesday at the National Press Club would start a 12-month process in which the remaining sites would be subjected to a “rigorous, transparent and fair” evaluation based on three levels of criteria, said Kenneth Humphreys, a Battele official who is one of FutureGen’s technical advisors.

During that year, the Department of Energy also would review each of the potential sites for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act so that the winner could be cleared for construction of the FutureGen plant, Humphreys said.


First Federal

Mudd and Humphreys stressed that the evaluation of the candidate sites would be conducted by engineers and scientists on purely objective, technical grounds, free from political influence.

The FutureGen Alliance is a not-for-profit consortium of some of the largest coal producers and users in the world. The 10 alliance members include power plant operators from the United States, Great Britain, Australia and China. South Korea and India recently agreed to contribute to the project, Mudd said. The alliance members have committed a total of $250 million toward a partnership with the Energy Department to build and operate an innovative coal gasification plant as a research and development project.

The technology developed at the plant would be available worldwide to contribute to the clean and efficient production of electricity by using coal, which is one of the world’s most abundant form of fossil fuel.

A key attribute of the FutureGen project is the plan to permanently capture deep underground the carbon dioxide the plant would produce, dramatically reducing the emission of a gas some scientists consider a major factor in global warming.

Because of that plan, a critical requirement of the plant site would be a subterranean geological structure able to absorb up to 30 million tons of carbon dioxide, Humphrey said.

Although abandoned mines or oil and gas deposits could meet that need, Humphreys said the best condition would be a highly saline water table several thousand feet underground with an impervious rock layer above it.

The potential sites will be evaluated on three tiers of criteria, Humphreys said.

The essential “qualifying criteria” include an area of at least 200 acres of mainly level terrain, free of any hazardous materials or environmentally sensitive conditions, such as wetlands, endangered species or parks, with access to water for cooling and to good transportation and away from any drinking water supply. The land should be readily available for development without complicated local or state environmental approval requirements.

The second tier of “scoring criteria” would be used to rate qualifying sites. It could include the overall size and condition of the site and availability of the other necessary attributes beyond qualifying criteria.

The final tier is “best value criteria,” which could include financial incentives provided by the state or locality, ready access to power grids for distribution of the 275 megawatts of power the plant would produce and a potential market for the massive amounts of hydrogen that would be a by-product of the coal gasification.

The Tuscarawas County site offered is in the southern part of the county off Rt. 36 between Gnadenhutten and Port Washington.

Other candidate sites are four in central Illinois coal country, two locations in Texas oil fields and one site each in coal-producing areas of West Virginia, Kentucky, North Dakota and Wyoming.