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Energy officials give key OK to FutureGen

BY DAVID MERCERAssociated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday gave the long-planned FutureGen clean-coal project one of the final OKs it needs to start building.

The Energy Department issued its 25-page approval of the $1.65 billion plan that would refit a coal-fired power plant in Meredosia in western Illinois. The project would remove carbon dioxide from the coal and store it underground. The greenhouse gas is linked to climate change.

In the document, known as a record of decision, the Energy Department said the project planners had addressed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerns raised about potential air pollution and other matters. The department is providing $1 billion to the project, with the rest of the money coming from the FutureGen Alliance, a group of coal companies that formed to work on the project.

"DOE based its decision on the importance of achieving the objectives of the FutureGen Initiative and a careful review of the potential environmental impacts," the document states. "Clean coal is an essential component of (President Barack Obama's) 'All of the Above' energy strategy."

Ken Humphreys, CEO of the FutureGen Alliance, said the project still needs to obtain a permit to store the gas and to finalize its end of the financing. Both are conditions that have to be met to secure the $1 billion in federal funding. But Humphreys said he expects construction to begin this year.

"The U.S. Department of Energy's approval of a favorable (record of decision) for the FutureGen 2.0 project advances the project another step forward.

Issuance of the ROD is an important milestone and a boost to demonstrating fully integrated carbon capture and storage technology at commercial-scale coal-fueled power plant," he said in an emailed statement.

FutureGen was first proposed in 2003 by the Bush administration. Initially, it would have involved building a new power plant in Mattoon in eastern Illinois.

The Energy Department shelved that project but, after Obama took office, restarted the current version of FutureGen and moved the project to Meredosia.

Some local residents have raised concerns about pollution and other potential impacts, and the Sierra Club filed suit in December to try to tighten pollution controls. That lawsuit is pending.

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