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Press Releases :: March 11, 2009

DOE’s Decision to Abandon FutureGen Was Illogical, According to Staff Report Released by Chairmen Gordon and Miller

(Washington, DC) –In an effort to kill the FutureGen project, top officials at the Department of Energy knowingly used inaccurate project cost figures and promoted an alternative plan that career staff repeatedly warned them would not work, according to a majority staff report to Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC).

FutureGen was a highly-touted initiative announced by President George W. Bush in February of 2003 to demonstrate that coal could be changed from an environmentally challenging energy resource into an environmentally benign one by sequestering carbon dioxide emissions and eliminating other pollutants. The Energy Department and its industrial partners would build a 275-megawatt, integrated gasification combined cycle coal (IGCC) power plant that would incorporate carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). It would have been the first plant of this type in the world. But in January of 2008, former Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman pulled the plug on the project, reconfiguring it as a privately funded initiative with limited government subsidies. To date, nothing has come of this new initiative.
 
“To knowingly abandon a program that held out the hope of making a real impact in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases from coal in favor of another program that held out no hope at all—not commercially and not to provide technological innovation to capture and sequester carbon—is inexcusable,” said Gordon.  “All we have to show for ‘Plan B’ is lost time and an abandoned global leadership role.”
 
“DOE officials knew that they were manipulating the numbers, and that the ‘restructured’ FutureGen would not accomplish what had been planned, but they went ahead anyway,” said Subcommittee Chairman Miller. “In the process, they lost the participation of China and India, which are some of the largest users of coal in the world. The damage to U.S. leadership on “clean coal” technology, and climate change generally, cannot be overstated.”
 
The report was the result of staff review of thousands of DOE internal documents. That review found that former Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman strongly disliked the project, but to keep the President’s initiative alive, he reconfigured it into a competition under which private companies would be paid to add a CCS component to their IGCC plants. Bodman publicly claimed that the restructured FutureGen would cost less but would result in multiple clean coal demonstrations and expedite the development of clean coal technology. But he was warned numerous times by staff that industry would not respond favorably because participation was not financially advantageous – warnings that were borne out when the Department received only four applications for the new competition. None of them were for IGCC plants, and two of them were not even responsive to DOE’s solicitation. 
 
For more information, including the staff report, please see the Committee’s website.
 
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