By Ari Natter
Oct. 31 --The Energy Department recommended moving forward with the FutureGen 2.0 carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) project in a final environmental impact statement that found the country's most inclusive CCS project would have minimal environmental impacts.
The document recommended that the department proceed with a plan to provide $1 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for the project at an Illinois power plant, while rejecting alternatives that ranged from taking no action to using alternative technology and fuel sources.
The final environmental impact statement, to be published in the Federal Register Nov. 1, paves the way for the Energy Department to issue a final record of decision--the agency's last step in its review process--as early as December, though permits at other entities need to be approved before construction on the project can begin.
The $1.65 billion project is backed by the FutureGen Alliance, a nonprofit organization made up of coal mining and electric power companies that include Alpha Natural Resources Inc., Anglo American SA, Joy Global Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp.
The project, which is in the preconstruction and design phase, would allow an existing coal-fired power plant in Meredosia, Ill., to capture more than 90 percent of the plant's carbon dioxide emissions and pipe them to an underground storage site 30 miles away in Morgan County, Ill.
The 168-megawatt project would be the first in the world to use a process known as oxy-combustion on a large scale, which burns coal using purified oxygen to produce a clean carbon dioxide emissions stream that is easier to capture than the diluted carbon dioxide resulting from burning coal with ambient air.
“DOE considered the advancement of carbon capture and storage technology critically important to addressing CO2 emissions and global climate change concerns associated with coal-fueled energy,” the department said in its environmental review.
The FutureGen project, which would be the first of its kind, was conceived in 2003 by the Bush administration, but was discontinued in 2008 for reasons that included increasing costs. The Obama administration resurrected the project in 2010, renaming it FutureGen 2.0.
The Energy Department's latest green light for the project comes as a Congressional Research Service report cast doubt on the potential of FutureGen 2.0 to meet a 2015 deadline to use the stimulus funding, and questions have risen about the viability of using CCS technologies on a commercial scale .
Construction on the project is expected to begin during the summer of 2014, following approval of an Underground Injection Control permit pending at the Environmental Protection Agency, air and water permit applications submitted to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and approval of a pipeline construction permit by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, according to the FutureGen Alliance.
“The EIS identifies no significant environmental impacts and describes how the mitigation measures proposed by the Alliance will avoid or minimize impacts to sensitive resources,” Ken Humphreys, FutureGen Alliance chief executive, said in a statement. “We look forward to DOE finalizing the EIS and issuing a Record of Decision, which will allow us to keep this near-zero emissions project on track.”
Commercial operations could begin in 2017, according to the Energy Department.
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The final environmental impact statement for the FutureGen project is available at http://energy.gov/nepa/downloads/eis-0460-final-environmental-impact-statement.
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