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Climate Change Hero

Climate Change Blog

  • 05
  • February
  • 2015


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Days of FutureGen Past

On February 4, the Department of Energy (DOE) cancelled its proposed $1 billion funding for the FutureGen 2.0 carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project located near Meredosia, Illinois, essentially killing the project. DOE stated that it cancelled funding for the project because it would not be completed by the September 2015 deadline required under the terms of DOE’s loan guarantee program. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had  previously issued a Class VI injection permit under the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program of the Safe Water Drinking Act (SDWA) in September 2014. To date, DOE has spent approximately $116.5 million on the power plant and $86 million on the underground CO2 storage site.

The Department of Energy's rendering of FutureGen in 2007.

(AP / U.S. Department of Energy)

History of FutureGen

The project faced an uphill battle from the beginning, including permitting hurdles and receiving approval from Illinois’ public utility commission to charge consumers to help fund the project. The FutureGen program dates back to the Bush Administration, which cancelled the project due to cost overrun concerns. The Obama Administration revived the project in 2008, with the funding coming from the 2009 federal stimulus package under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The original plan was to construct a 275 megawatt (MW), integrated gasification combined cycle, coal-fired plant to produce electricity and hydrogen. In August 2010, DOE changed plans and launched “FutureGen 2.0,” seeking to retrofit an existing 200 MW shuttered plant in Meredosia, Illinois, with oxy-combustion technology and a CCS system. Oxy-combustion technology produces a near pure stream of CO2 and also eliminates pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and mercury. The project was set to include a 30 mile pipeline that would transport CO2emissions from the plant to a deep saline aquifer formation at a rate of 1.1 million tons per year for 20 years. The project would have captured over 90% of the power plant's emissions and cost $1.65 billion.

FutureGen has been the subject of extensive environmental reviews and several judicial challenges, including the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act and lawsuits from neighboring landowners to the Class VI UIC permits and the Sierra Club to the state-issued air permit. Despite the potential benefits of a CCS demonstration project, environmental groups targeted FutureGen as part of their “Beyond Coal” campaign. When DOE pulled the plug on its loan, it sealed the fate on the long and troubled history of the FutureGen program.

What Does the Loss of FutureGen Mean?

The loss of the FutureGen project raises new concerns about the future of CCS. To date, only one power plant in Canada has successfully deployed CCS. FutureGen would have been the first of its kind and was projected to capture 90% of the power plant’s CO2 emissions. Domestic CCS projects have been plagued by construction delays and ever-increasing budgets. For example, although scheduled to come online sometime in the first half of 2015, Southern Co.’s Kemper County 582 MW plant in Mississippi is projected to ultimately cost over $5 billion, more than double initial estimates.

Looming large in interested parties’ minds is what effect the cancellation of FutureGen will have on EPA’s soon to be finalized New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for Electric Generating Units (EGUs). The NSPS sets a performance standard for GHG emissions from new and modified EGUs that, effectively, can only be met by natural gas-fired power plants or coal plants employing CCS. The EPA has repeatedly pointed to the FutureGen and other CCS projects as proof that CCS represents the best system of emission reduction (BSER) because it has been “adequately demonstrated” under the federal Clean Air Act. While the EPA does not rely on any particular project to support its BSER determination in the NSPS, FutureGen’s failure and the lack of multiple successful CCS projects weakens the agency’s position in its proposed rule.

FutureGen’s passing also means that other CCS projects will not receive the benefit of lessons learned from FutureGen’s operation. Effective CCS requires a pure or near-pure stream of CO2, and FutureGen would have provided important operational data for the oxy-combustion technology and also provided some degree of certainty for investors in similar CCS projects. Moreover, despite EPA’s issuance of a rule under the SDWA for permitting CO2 injection wells back in 2010, FutureGen was the only facility to have received a Class VI UIC permit. The four permits issued by EPA contained numerous monitoring and testing requirements, and the data other potential CCS operators could have gleaned from them would have proven invaluable to ensuring the success of future CCS projects and set up a smoother UIC Class VI compliance program.

At times, FutureGen appeared to have nine lives, finding new government and private sector support, but this latest setback may prove to be the final blow. It is unlikely the project will be able to find sufficient private investors to make up the lack of government support. The cancellation will provide new ammunition for opponents of EPA’s NSPS for EGUs, and could also embolden environmental groups to attack any proposed CCS project they perceive as lacking sufficient pollution emission controls

Posted by  Matthew Dobbins at 02/05/2015 4:55 PM


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Mattew T. Dobbins

Matthew Dobbins Senior Associate