$1 billion in stimulus funds to finance new Illinois clean-coal project

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 5, 2010
By: Bill Lambrecht

WASHINGTON -- A new federally financed plan announced today will reopen a shuttered Ameren power plant in western Illinois and pipe emissions across Illinois for storage deep underground.

The $1.2 billion project replaces the long-debated FutureGen project calling for a new-technology power plant in the east-central Illinois town of Mattoon.

Instead, under a plan called FutureGen 2.0, the Department of Energy envisions the Ameren plant at Meredosia, Ill. as the first of many utilities that will send carbon dioxide emissions through pipelines for storage at Mattoon more than 1,000 feet underground.

"We now have tapped into what I think is the cutting edge of coal research," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said when announcing the project in Washington.

The reconfigured project scraps the clean-coal power plant idea that began more than seven years ago in a competition overseen by the federal government.

Illinois won that competition but the Bush administration put the project on hold in what was widely viewed as a political decision after a Texas site lost out in the funding.

President Barack Obama resurrected the power plant idea, but Durbin said that the pricetag and evolving technology led to a change in plans.

"The cost kept going up every year; that was the burden we were carrying," he said.

The project will be 80 percent funded by Recovery Act money approved last year and construction will begin in the spring, Durbin said.

In addition to Ameren Energy Resources, the company's wholesale power unit, partners in what is being called a clean coal repowering program include Babcock & Wilcox, based in North Carolina, and Air Liquide Process and Construction, Inc., a Texas company.

Durbin estimated that the cost of the repowering work at Ameren's Meredosia plant at $737 million.

The plan calls for restarting Ameren's 200-megawatt plant in deploying a technology called oxy-combustion. Meredosia is situated in western Illinois on the Illinois River, 115 miles from St. Louis.

Ameren sought to sell the 60-year-old plant last year but couldn't find buyers. So the plant was shut down and dozens of workers were laid off.

The Energy Department said that the advanced technology at the Meredosia plant will include a new boiler, air separation and purification unit that will be able to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide and eliminate other harmful emissions.

The oxy-combustion technology burns coal with a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide rather than air in order to produce concentrated carbon dioxide for storage.

The Energy Department said the Ameren facility would be "a near-zero emissions plant" because nearly all of its pollution would be eliminated.

The project will create some 500 construction jobs and enable Ameren to recall 50 peremanent workers laid off last year.

The 175-mile pipeline will run across central Illinois to the East with initial plans calling for the Archer Daniels Midland, the grain processing giant at Decatur, to add its industrial pollution for storage at the 400-acre site at Mattoon.

The Energy Department said the more than 1 million tons of captured carbon dioxide would be injected into the ground yearly at Mattoon.

Durbin observed that 50 plants in Illinois and some 200 within reach of Mattoon have the potenial of hooking up to the pipeline.

That potenial keeps alive the prospect of continuing to burn Illinois' high-sulfur coal at a time of growing pressure to reduce or eliminate altogether the dirty emissions from coal.

In addition, the plan calls for building a training facility at Mattoon that would be funded largely by the Department of Labor, Durbin said.

Durbin said the project would create 1,000 construction jobs in Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers of businesses related to the pieline.