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Carbon-Capture Coal Plant Is Back, But Still Bleeding Red Ink

The Department of Energy announced this morning that it is willing to spend $1 billion on a cutting‑edge power plant in Illinois called FutureGen if the plant's industrial partners pay for the rest. The plant, which some observers say could cost more than $2 billion, would convert coal into gas, burn it, then capture much of the resulting carbon dioxide and pump it into geologic reservoirs deep underground.

FutureGen was conceived during the Bush Administration. But DOE officials gradually soured on the deal as cost estimates rose, and last year then‑Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman canceled funding for it. However, the plant has powerful supporters, including Senator Dick Durbin (D–IL). President Barack Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, also supported the project when they represented Illinois in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively.

DOE's statement says it will work with the private FutureGen Alliance to restart design work on FutureGen and draw up a budget. The agency "will make a decision either to move forward or to discontinue the project early in 2010." Government funding for the project would come from money approved as part of the recent stimulus package, which added $38 billion in one-time spending to DOE's current $24 billion budget.

The first DOE press release suggested that, in a move to control costs, the plant would aim  to initially capture 60% of its carbon dioxide emissions, rather than 90%, as had been previously planned. Within a few minutes, however, the agency issued a revised release in which that sentence was deleted.