FutureGen 2.0: America’s #1 Energy Boondoggle

by William Yeatman on June 7, 2011

in Blog, Features

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Tonight in Taylorville, Illinois, the Department of Energy will hold the first of 3 field hearings on the environmental impact of FutureGen 2.0, America’s biggest boondoggle.

If you are unacquainted with FutureGen, it was George W. Bush’s marquee energy initiative, a $1 billion public-private partnership to build a coal-fired power plant that “captured” greenhouse gas emissions and piped them underground for storage.

President Bush proposed the project in 2003, but the Congress initially was skeptical. In 2005, the House Appropriations Committee rejected Bush’s request for FutureGen funding. Members called it a “maybe” program, too risky to merit the investment.

That should have been the end of it. But the prospect of landing a billion dollar government investment mobilized support for the project in a number of coal-states, including Texas, Illinois and Ohio, the home state to then-Chairman of the Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee David Hobson (R-Ohio). Thus galvanized by pork barrel politics, the Congress changed its mind in 2006, and appropriated seed funding for FutureGen.

Ultimately, Illinois won the right to host the project in December 2007. Shortly thereafter, the Energy Department pulled the plug on FutureGen, due to cost over-runs that had doubled the project’s estimated price-tag to almost $2 billion. Also, a significant component of the FutureGen investment became increasingly unnecessary as the private sector moved forward with gasification technologies.  Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman wrote that the Department of Energy could not support the project “in good conscience” because of “the likelihood it would fail.”

Illinois politicians were predictably outraged. Since-disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich accused President Bush of ending FutureGen because Texas, the President’s home State, failed to win the project. Then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama co-signed a letter to the President saying that he had “lost confidence” in Energy Secretary Bodman. Illinois’s Senior Senator Richard Durbin went so far as to block President Bush’s political appointments over the matter.

But Bush held firm, and FutureGen seemed dead. This changed when Barack Obama became President. Despite his calls for “hope” and “change,” President Obama stayed true to Cook County politics, and resurrected the FutureGen project as a sop to his home State. In late summer 2009, the Department of Energy announced it would invest $1 billion from Stimulus funds in “FutureGen 2.0,” a scaled back version of the original. Instead of building a new coal power plant, FutureGen 2.0 would turn an existing oil-fired power plant into a coal plant, and then attempt to capture up to 90% of its greenhouse gas emissions.

Since it was resurrected, the project has stumbled along. Coles County, Illinois, the  community originally chosen to host the storage of greenhouse gases from the FutureGen 2.0 coal plant, dropped out, and the Department of Energy has had to rush to meet deadlines for spending imposed by the Stimulus. Simply put, the project was and is a mess. Nonetheless, it proceeds apace, as is evidenced by this evening’s field hearing. That’s a shame, and it’s also an indictment of the current President. A bloated, delay-prone boondoggle might be in the interests of the Prairie State, but it is not in the national interest.

Edmund S Pedro June 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm

The Virgin Earth Challenge has initiated a very good program on the issue of global warming. The world now awaits the result of such challenge especially those who have entries on said challenge.

We expect to come out with at least one, two or five ways on how we can really address those greenhouse gasses which keep on piling up every minute.

Is Global warming really a concern? Or is this just a hoax?

john s. gordon June 8, 2011 at 9:14 am

the texas republican party politicians are still trying to get the project moved to TX.

foreign countries are way ahead of u.s.a. on CCS (carbon dioxide capture & storage).

so we will just have to buy our technology from foreigners because the politicians are blocking it here.
> jack

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