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FutureGen plant revival boosts coal

An artist's rendering of the proposed FutureGen plant.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Oil prices slid today. Traders took profits from crude hitting eight-month highs yesterday. But the real energy news of the day is coal. Clean coal to be precise. This morning the Department of Energy said it's going to restart efforts to build an advanced technology coal plant, a plant that was killed by the Bush administration.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


Sam Eaton: It's called FutureGen. And it would be the first commercial scale coal plant in the world to trap and store its CO2 emissions underground. The Department of Energy today promised a little more than $1 billion in stimulus money to move the project forward. It's a victory for FutureGen Alliance. That's the group of coal companies and utilities backing the power plant.

CEO Michael Mudd says government support is essential for clean coal's future.

Michael Mudd: Like with any technology whether it's the first VCR, the first of a kind of an automobile or the first of the kind of any technology. You got to build 'em, get the bugs out, before you can have widespread acceptance by the marketplace.

Half of the nation's electricity comes from coal, so the stakes couldn't be any higher. It could also position U.S. companies to one day sell the technology to country's like China instead of the other way around.

But George Peridas with the Natural Resources Defense Council says technology has nothing to do with clean coal's success or failure.

George Peridas: We already know that this can be done. The reason you haven't seen more of these projects is because there's no underlying economic driver to do this.

In other words, so long as pumping CO2 into the atmosphere is free, why would utilities pay extra to pump it underground? Peridas says absent a mandatory cap on carbon emissions, like the one now being considered in Congress, FutureGen's future won't be very bright.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.
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