FutureGen in trouble: I rest my case

Now isn’t this timely. Reuters is reporting that the U.S. Department of Energy is getting cold feet with its much-touted FutureGen clean coal project, largely because the $900 million project pricetag has ballooned to $1.8 billion, and climbing. Seems the U.S. government, which had promised to fund 75 per cent of the public-private initiative, is having second thoughts because Energy Secretary Sam Bodman isn’t happy about the cost overruns so far.

Here’s a message for you Sammy: Get used to it.

Clean coal. Carbon capture and sequestration. Nuclear. It might lead us to energy independence, but it will come at a price. Half measures won’t get us there, and neither will promises and big talk. Aren’t conservation and renewables looking good at this point?

6 thoughts on “FutureGen in trouble: I rest my case”

  1. Wow. This is especially surprising given how many climate plans hinge on the widespread adoption of CCS.

    To what degree is this decision an indictment of CCS in general and to what degree does it reflect the peculiarities of the FutureGen project?

  2. FutureGen, has and always will be a distraction from real carbon reduction strategies. The DOE plans to “demonstrate” a plant that will cogenerate 275 Megawatts of electricity and hydrogen and sequester the CO2 by 2020. (Cite “Hell and High water, Joseph Romm pg 157 par. 1) Meanwhile more of the inefficient, polluting coal plants get built.

    Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants exist now and can be built today. They cook the coal and by doing so remove the impurities like the oxides of sulphur. What’s left is hydrogen rich gas and CO2. The gas is burned to generate electricity and the CO2 is sequestered. It is true that while CO2 sequestration has been used in the oil industry it has yet to be tested to determine its feasibility in electric power generation. However IGCC technology exists now but the utilities won’t build them in the absence of a cost attached to CO2 emissions.

    That is why FutureGen is called NeverGen by people in the industry. This was also covered by Romm (same citation) and Jeff Goodell in his book “Big Coal.”

  3. Being aware that there are bound to be prices involved in energy infrastructure transitions is one thing. That doesn’t mean you can’t dig your heels in when things start looking ridiculous.

    I accept that I have to pay to keep my car maintained; I maintain I have the right to turf my mechanic if he’s billed me for over twice his original estimate without even finishing.

  4. Maybe this is just an indication of a bit of a return to true conservative economic principals by the administration. The principal that government may not be best suited to anoint winning business strategies through taxation and subsidies. It would seem to me that the true conservative way of addressing climate change would be through a cap-trade system, with a long term plan allowing business to see the progressive yearly reduction of emission allowances. Until the system is global we might need to require importers to purchase credits to avoid simply shipping the CO2 problem overseas. Likewise, until the system is global it might be wise to put in a relief valve of a CO2 credit price cap which would be stipulated to rise each year.

    This scheme would give business a stable system whereby they could do the long term planning of how best to make money while still addressing the realities of global warming. If CCS works economically then it would get done. If huge investments in solar are more cost effective then they would happen. Maybe it’s geothermal or algae… or some off all of the above.

    I guess the basic question is what productive roll does government have in seeding research in new technologies versus when does it become business distorting subsidies, propping up technologies that are suboptimal.

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