Springfield Journal Register

March 25, 2004

State bids for clean-coal plant
Plan presented  to place project in southern Illinois


WASHINGTON - Illinois coal-development experts Wednesday attempted to persuade the U.S. Department of Energy to choose southern Illinois as the site of a proposed $1 billion FutureGen project aimed at creating the world's first "clean-coal" power plant.

The effort is part of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's economic development plans for the state. Bill Hoback, bureau chief of the Illinois Office of Coal Development, and Rob Finlay of the Illinois State Geological Survey at the University of Illinois gave an hourlong presentation of the state's geological attributes.

After the session, Mark Maddox, acting assistant secretary in the Energy Department's Office of Fossil Energy, described it as a "very solid presentation."

It will be two years until a final site is chosen for the federal research project, and at least half a dozen other states are competing for it, state officials said. But Illinois officials believe they are ahead of the game because they've already done preliminary studies and presented their findings in detail to the Energy Department.

Asked if the presentation gave Illinois an advantage, Maddox said, "I don't think it ever hurts."

The meeting was hosted by Reps. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale, who chairs a House science energy subcommittee, also attended. Costello also is a member of that subcommittee.

President Bush last year proposed the 275-megawatt power plant that would have a low level of polluting emissions, similar to those run on natural gas. It would use clean-coal technology to generate electricity and provide a new source of clean-burning hydrogen.

"We have community support. We have political support from state and federal officials. We have the governor," Costello said.

The entire Illinois congressional delegation supports the state's effort to attract the project. "We think we have all the resources to make it successful in Illinois. That's why we're here today," Costello said.

Southern Illinois is rich in high-sulfur coal reserves, but its mining industry suffered when federal air pollution restrictions limited the coal's use. Unlike the traditional coal-burning plants, FutureGen will use coal gasification, a chemical process that is less polluting. Illinois' geology is well-suited to the carbon-trapping technology that is being proposed to
reduce emissions.

The Energy Department will choose the members of a consortium from among coal producers and utilities by the end of this year, and the consortium will develop the technical criteria for the model project. After that, states will be asked to submit their formal applications.

No specific location within Illinois is being promoted. State officials believe about 15 counties in south-central and southeastern Illinois are possible sites.

When operational, the facility would be the cleanest, or least polluting, coal-fired power plant in the world, federal officials said.