Summary:

This afternoon the DOE announced that power company Ameren has stepped up to drive a new version of FutureGen that the DOE has dubbed FutureGen 2.0. Thus the DOE says it will still award the project $1 billion out of the stimulus package.

If $1 billion in federal funding doesn’t kick start the sputtering FutureGen project, a controversial public-private initiative to test experimental carbon capture and storage, I don’t know what will. This afternoon the Department of Energy announced that power company Ameren has stepped up to drive a new version of FutureGen that the DOE has dubbed FutureGen 2.0. Thus the DOE says it will still award the project $1 billion out of the stimulus package, which it announced last year.

If you recall, just two weeks after Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the DOE would give FutureGen $1 billion, American Electric Power and Southern Co. announced that they were ditching the FutureGen Alliance — a group of coal and utility companies that the DOE was expecting to contribute a total of $400-$600 million for the project. Back then Ohio-based AEP told Business First of Columbus that the move was “strictly a financial decision.”

Losing two major utilities just after the DOE’s funding announcement wasn’t a good sign for the project or for Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s reputation. But Chu publicly reached out to utilities at the Edison Electric Institute’s conference in San Francisco last year, and looks like the industry — at least Ameren — responded.

While the previous FutureGen was going to be built as a new next-gen power plant in eastern Illinois, FutureGen 2.0 is now supposed to be constructed on Ameren’s 200 MW coal fired power plant in Meredosia, (western) Illinois. The DOE says FutureGen 2.0 will out fit the power plant, which was built back in the 40′s, with oxy-combustion techbology, and the plant’s new gear will capture 90 percent of the carbon emissions. The project will be led by Ameren Energy Resources, Babcock & Wilcox, and Air Liquide Process & Construction, Inc, and the carbon will still be stored at the site in Mattoon, Illinois.

We’ll see if FutureGen will finally get the “rapid restart” that Chu described last year. The capture and storage project has been in a start and stop phase for years, and the Bush administration initially pulled FutureGen a couple years ago based on flawed cost estimates, according to two congressional reports. The project had ballooned $370 million over budget.

Ameren, largely a coal-based utility, itself has been struggling and also announced second quarter earnings today, with a profit that dropped 8 percent. However with the new altered FutureGen plan, we’d bet the costs of the project have come down dramatically.

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