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Clean Coal Plan Fails Due To Bad Maths

by Alan Harten
March 12, 2009

The US Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative branch, released a report today saying a clean coal facility, FutureGen, was rejected by the Bush administration because the Department of Energy (DOE) did not consider inflation when calculating the estimated cost.

FutureGen, announced in 2003, was designed to prove that coal, the world’s biggest source of power, could be burned without spewing out millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The U.S. government would have paid 75 percent of the bill, the remainder coming from private industry.

Importantly, China and India, both major coal users, had promised to contribute around 8 percent of the cost to see if their hunger for coal could be mitigated by FutureGen’s carbon capture and storage technology.

When rejecting the project, Sam Bodman, previous Secretary of Energy, inaccurately compared 2005 dollar values with inflated dollars that would have been spent over the following years, the report says.

At 2005 dollar values, the plant would need $1.3 billion, $370 million or nearly 39 percent more than DOE’s estimate, instead of almost doubling the costs, government auditors found.

U.S. Senator for Illinois, Dick Durbin, a Democrat and other legislators now hope that the project will be resuscitated under Steven Chu, new Secretary of Energy and the Obama administration.

Durbin succeeded in having $1 billion for the plant included in the federal stimulus package and promised on Wednesday to carry on pushing for the project, which may create 1,300 construction jobs and 150 permanent posts.

The DOE quit FutureGen in January 2008 after five years of work, blaming increasing costs said Durbin.

Nonetheless, Illinois delegates and members of both parties have kept the project alive for more than a year.

In December, the FutureGen Alliance and Coles Together, a business development group for Coles County, purchased a 400-acre site with $3 million raised in the area by Coles Together, and money from the group’s 13 members, including Peabody Energy Corporation of St. Louis.

President Obama is a supporter of clean coal and his election increases hopes that FutureGen might happen.

In Washington, observers anticipate that $1 billion in the recent economic recovery package for fossil energy R&D may be allocated to the project

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