Tuesday, February 19, 2008

House Science Committee Wants GAO Investigation Of FutureGen

Feb 15: The Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology Bart Gordon (D-TN) -- joined by fellow Committee Members Nick Lampson (D-TX), Jerry Costello (D-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) -- have asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the Administration’s recent decision to pull their support for FutureGen -- a project intended to demonstrate the next generation of coal-fired power production and once the centerpiece of the Department of Energy’s(DOE) program on clean coal technology.

On January 31, 2008, the DOE announced a significant departure from its clean coal initiative, FutureGen [See WIMS 1/31/08]. Originally conceived in 2003, FutureGen was touted as a pollution-free power plant of the future intended to showcase cutting-edge technologies to address climate change and advance the President’s hydrogen initiative. In announcing its "restructured" FutureGen program, DOE withdrew support for the Mattoon, IL site announced by the FutureGen Alliance in December 2007.

DOE said, it had issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking industry’s input by March 3, 2008, on the costs and feasibility associated with building clean coal facilities that achieve the intended goals of FutureGen. Following this period and consideration of industry comment, DOE intends to issue a Funding Opportunity Announcement -- or competitive solicitation -- to provide federal funding under cooperative agreements to equip Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC, or other clean coal technology) commercial power plants that generate at least 300 megawatts, with CCS technology aimed at accelerating near-term technology deployment. Initial input from industry will assist in determining how many demonstrations can be commissioned.

In a letter to GAO the Representatives said, “The recent FutureGen announcement takes the program in a dramatically different direction. The reasons for this abrupt change in the FutureGen program are unclear. However, the Administration claims that increases in cost estimates for the program were a contributing factor in this decision. We wish to have a better understanding of the developments in the program that led to this recent decision and an examination of the Administration’s rationale and plans for restructuring this program. There is a need to accelerate the development of carbon capture and sequestration technologies and we want to ensure the Department’s approach to this challenge will deliver the capability we need in the most cost-effective and rapid time frame possible.”

The Committee is asking GAO to investigate a number of concerns surrounding the Administration’s abandoning of FutureGen, including the methods DOE used to estimate the costs of the FutureGen program; what factors accounted for the increases in cost estimates that DOE reports as a major reason for restructuring the FutureGen initiative; and what costs, if any, are associated with the decision to terminate the existing FutureGen program and any contracts or cooperative agreements associated with it.

On February 7, the FutureGen Alliance Board of Directors reaffirmed what it said was "the importance of proceeding with the development of the FutureGen facility in Mattoon, Illinois" at a Board meeting held at the host site. The Board announced its plan to push the project forward as planned, as it believes that FutureGen at Mattoon remains in the public interest. The Board said the Mattoon site has all of the attributes required to be successful, including a secure water source and the ability to inject CO2 on-site eliminating the need for an extended offsite pipeline. The FutureGen Alliance represents some of the world's largest coal companies and electric utilities.

The Alliance indicates that the estimated gross project cost, including construction and operations, is $1.8B (billion). Consistent with its non-profit mission, the Alliance will return 100% of the powerplant’s estimated $300 million in revenue to the project; thereby, reducing the total net project cost to $1.5B. Alliance member companies will make nearly $400 million in additional contributions. The remaining $1.1B was to be contributed by DOE and foreign governments. Thus far, the foreign governments of China, India, Australia, South Korea, and Japan have pledged to assist DOE in covering DOE’s share of the project cost.

Access a release from the Committee (
click here). Access the letter (click here). Access a lengthy release from DOE on the restructured FutureGen program with links to additional information (click here). Access the DOE FutureGen website for additional information (click here). Access the FutureGen Alliance website (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]