A Publication of WTVP

Central Illinois received some fantastic news this summer with the announcement that Tuscola and Mattoon represent half of the “final four” for the $1 billion FutureGen Industrial Alliance’s coal-fueled power plant, in development since 2003. The other two finalists are Odessa and Jewett, Texas, and the final site won’t be announced until September 2007.

The first-of-its-kind plant will generate electricity while producing zero emissions by capturing carbon dioxide. It will use coal gasification technology to produce 275 megawatts of electric power, as well as hydrogen for fuel cells and other industrial uses. The technologies the FutureGen plant will use already exist, but haven’t yet been integrated in a single plant; this integration is expected to prove these technologies commercially viable.

The FutureGen plant being developed for the US Department of Energy will set the standard for more commercially viable coal-fueled plants throughout the world. Just as important as the positive economic impact and jobs the plant could bring to central Illinois is the creation of a greater market for Illinois coal and a new energy reserve based on domestic resources.

Most importantly, this is a momentous alert to the world that Illinois is a leader in the energy business. This is about the future of the world’s energy in a diminishing petroleum environment. It has the potential to rejuvenate coal as a significant future energy source for the world. It represents a critical, visionary step after years of wrestling with environmental issues that have held back coal power plants, and addresses the future of energy—not just for a state rich with coal reserves, but for our country and the world.

In addition to Illinois’ coal reserves, we’re an infrastructure hub: sites in Mattoon and Tuscola represent some of the best access in the nation to natural gas pipelines, rivers, rail lines, and the geology to support the byproduct needs for this plant. The FutureGen plant would be an excellent complement to this hub with its technology that can meet energy demands, protect the environment, and put people to work. FutureGen officials estimate as many as 1,300 construction jobs will be required to build the plant, with 150 permanent jobs once the plant is completed. What a shot in the arm for the central Illinois economy that would be.

State officials claim another advantage to Illinois’ sites is the strength of the investment package being offered, including a $17 million direct grant from a clean coal technology fund, part of the state’s FY 07 budget. An estimated $15 million sales tax exemption on materials and equipment is available through local Enterprise Zones. Additional project-related funding is available through the Illinois Coal Competitiveness Program, the Illinois Clean Coal Institute, and the public-private partnership Illinois Clean Coal Review Board. There’s also $50 million set aside by the Illinois Finance Authority for below-market-rate loans to the Alliance. Local support is seen in the form of property and sales tax abatements, site donations, and/or land options.

Many leaders in Illinois have worked to reach this round of this high-stakes game, and you can bet the same is true in Texas. Every player, every official, and every supporter of boosting our state’s economy and coal industry will have to bring their A-game to ensure Illinois brings home the FutureGen trophy in 2007. IBI