Policy Documents

Research & Commentary: The FutureGen Project

January 4, 2012

In the past few decades the federal government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing the development of new energy technologies, including large-scale sequestration of carbon emitted from coal-burning power plants. Efforts to make the use of coal for power generation more environmentally friendly led to the launch of the FutureGen program in 2003. FutureGen was created as a public-private partnership to build a low-emission, coal-fired power plant and prove the reliability of technologies designed to capture and store carbon dioxide.

Problems quickly arose for the program, and costs skyrocketed. FutureGen originally was estimated to cost $1 billion, but by 2008 the estimate grew to $1.8 billion. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, much of the cost increase came from risk management – many of the new materials and processes in the project threatened a significant health risk if they failed. The project was defunded by the Department of Energy in January 2008, but it was revived by the Obama administration in June 2009. It is now projected to cost $2.4 billion.

Supporters of the program argue FutureGen 2.0 will spur economic development and serve as a model for similar plants that will help fuel the world’s growing economy.

Opponents, such as the diverse Green Scissors Coalition (which includes The Heartland Institute), argue the technology being developed is “unproven, expensive, and potentially dangerous.” They also note the coal industry already has adequate incentives to invest in this research without government subsidy. In November 2011, key partner Ameren pulled out of the project and is negotiating to sell portions of its Meredosia, Illinois plant to the FutureGen Alliance, a consortium of mining and energy companies promoting FutureGen.

The following articles examine the FutureGen project and clean coal from multiple perspectives.

Green Scissors 2011: Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending
http://heartland.org/policy-documents/green-scissors-2011-cutting-wasteful-and-environmentally-harmful-spending
The Green Scissors report identifies how to save up to $380 billion over five years by curbing wasteful government spending that harms the environment. Representing a wide array of political interests, the coalition has built an impressive list of spending cuts, such as eliminating many fossil fuel, nuclear, and alternative energy subsidies. 

Project Facts: FutureGen 2.0
http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/factsheets/project/FE0001882-FE0005054.pdf
The U.S. Department of Energy discusses the details of FutureGen 2.0.

Downsizing Government: Energy Subsidies
http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/energy/subsidies#10
Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute argues federal energy research should be phased out as an unneeded cost in an era of massive government budget deficits. The private sector is entirely capable of performing research into coal, nuclear, solar, and alternative energy sources for itself. FutureGen is one of his recommended cuts.

FutureGen Case Study
http://nsw-rp-42.csiro.au/files/files/pyby.pdf
Gretchen Hund and Sallie Greenberg write about the FutureGen Alliance and the Illinois FutureGen Team’s community engagement activities and their perceived effectiveness. The timeline begins in July 2006, when the four semi-finalist sites were selected; reaches December 2007, when Mattoon, Illinois was selected as the final site; and ends one year later.

Mounting Costs Slow the Push for Clean Coal
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/30/business/30coal.html?pagewanted=all
Matthew Wald writes for the New York Times about the problems encountered by the original FutureGen Project involving high costs and technical and regulatory problems.

FutureGen Boondoggle
http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/futuregen-boondoggle/
Cato Institute analyst Chris Edwards documents the highly politicized nature of the FutureGen Project and problems it has encountered and caused.

FutureGen Facts: FutureGen 2.0
http://www.futuregenalliance.org/pdf/FutureGenFacts.pdf
The FutureGen Alliance, a consortium of mining and energy companies promoting FutureGen, gives an overview of the project from the perspective of one of its biggest supporters.

Final Risk Assessment Report for the FutureGen Project
http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/coalpower/futuregen/EIS/FG%20Risk%20Assessment%20110807.pdf
The U.S. Department of Energy reports the results of the human health and environmental risk assessment conducted to support the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for the FutureGen Project. It also assesses some of the risks involved in the project, including the potential release of captured gases during production and storage.

Is FutureGen Betting on the Wrong Rock?
http://environmentportal.in/files/FutureGen_0.pdf
Jeff Tollefson writes in Nature magazine about one of the technical problems faced by FutureGen: Geological factors affect how effectively carbon can be kept long-term without seepage. The article argues some of the sites chosen are ill-suited for this project.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at http://news.heartland.org/energy-and-environment, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at http://www.policybot.org.

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Legislative Specialists John Monaghan at 312/377-4000 or jmonaghan@heartland.org or Matthew Glans at mglans@heartland.org.