FutureGen’s Final Four

Issue 8 and Volume 110.

The FutureGen Industrial Alliance announced its list of Final Four sites for consideration on July 25 with only two states represented, Illinois and Texas. The short list for the highly-publicized, $1 billion, near-zero emissions coal-fueled power plant are:

  • Mattoon, Ill.
  • Tuscola, Ill.
  • Heart of Brazos near Jewett, TX
  • Odessa, TX

These candidate sites will move forward to the next step of the selection process, which includes a comprehensive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluation by the U.S. Department of Energy and more detailed site characterization.

Consolation Prizes

Mike Mudd, CEO of the FutureGen Alliance emphasized at the FutureGen press conference that whichever site was picked, the FutureGen facility would use all ranks of coal. “A clear part of our objective is to test all types of coal,” he said. Research from FutureGen needed to “close the cost gap and the performance gap” for all coal types.

In this respect, even the states that did not make the list will still benefit from various coal testing and research. Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher told the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper he was “disappointed” that Kentucky was not on FutureGen’s short list, but said the state could still gain from coal sales.

Other states that missed out on the U.S. Department of Energy-funded project are pursuing alternative coal gasification projects, with an eye on federal money set aside in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority announced in July it is seeking proposals for a public and private partnership for an integrated coal gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant. IGCC technology has not yet been proven to work in a high altitude setting using western coal.

In April, American Electric Power (AEP) gained approval from the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to recover costs associated with the construction of an IGCC plant in Meigs County, one of the sites contending for the FutureGen project. AEP is also pursuing IGCC recovery costs in West Virginia and Kentucky, both states that competed for FutureGen.

In another effort to prove IGCC for the west, North Dakota-based Basin Electric announced an IGCC initiative in June, in partnership with GE Energy and Bechtel Power. The trio would conduct a feasibility study for an IGCC power station using Powder River Basin coal in South Dakota.

Site Selection Process

With input from the DOE, independent technical experts, Battelle and other stakeholders, the Site Selection Team developed nearly 100 peer-reviewed, publicly-vetted criteria against which each potential site was evaluated. The criteria were designed to reflect the scientific and technical goals of the project, as well as to be consistent with the schedule and budget agreed to with the DOE.

The selection process between the 12 proposed sites included three areas:

  • Qualifying criteria, which are minimum requirements each site had to meet to be considered further; for example, a minimum of 200 acres of land was required along with adequate cooling water.
  • Scoring criteria, which gauge desirable attributes of each site; for example, sites in close proximity to transmission lines and suitable geology for CO2 sequestration scored better than sites that were not.
  • Best value criteria, which capture additional factors that affect the sites suitability for the specific mission of the project; for example: the ability to access hydrogen and power markets.

The qualifying criteria were divided between the power plant portion of the project and the geologic storage for the CO2 sequestration.

Eight sites made it through the qualifying stage, eliminating sites in North Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming and Ohio’s Meigs County. Dropping these sites was based mainly on where the site was located in relation to sensitive or inhabited areas and the environmental effect the FutureGen site might have on the location.

The eight remaining sites were visited and scored according to the qualifying criteria. The Alliance Siting Team individually scored each site and then reviewed the site visit reports. With this data, the team began to quantify the results and rank each site.

The qualified sites ranked as follows before being evaluated by the best-value criteria:

  • Heart of Brazos, Texas
  • Mattoon-Dole, Ill.
  • Odessa, Texas
  • Effingham, Ill.
  • Tuscola, Ill.
  • Marshall-Forsythe, Ill.
  • Tuscarawas County, Ohio
  • Henderson County, Ky.

During this part of the process, the Illinois Effingham site ranked within the top four. However, the FutureGen Alliance’s report said the site failed to make the short list because of its relatively small size (270 acres) and its long, narrow shape.

After scoring each site, the FutureGen Alliance considered them from an investment point of view by analyzing “best value” criteria; namely, which sites made the most financial sense. Mudd mentioned a few examples, such as demand for electricity in the area, whether or not a power sales agreement was already in place and the feasibility of acquiring land for the site. – Amethyst Cavallaro