Court says electricity customers can be charged to help finance FutureGen clean-coal plant



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CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — Illinois regulators can force electricity customers to help pay for the $1.6 billion FutureGen clean-coal project, a state appeals court said in a ruling Tuesday.

The 2-1 decision handed down by the Illinois Appellate Court OKs a state plan to charge electricity customers an estimated $1 to $1.40 a month to help pay for the long-delayed project. FutureGen would refit a western Illinois coal plant with technology to remove carbon dioxide before the coal is burned and store the CO2 underground.

Ken Humphreys is CEO of the FutureGen Alliance, a group of five coal companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy on the long-planned project.

Humphreys said the decision "will keep the FutureGen 2.0 project on track to create economic growth, jobs and near-zero emissions power."

Power suppliers including Commonwealth Edison had argued state regulators lack authority to require the payments.

Commonwealth Edison said in a brief statement that it will comply with the decision.

Illinois Competitive Energy Association, a group of market-power electricity providers that is part of the legal challenge, referred questions to its attorney. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FutureGen was first proposed during President George W. Bush's first term in office. The public-private project initially would have built a new experimental power plant in eastern Illinois that would have burned coal after removing the carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas, which has been linked to global warming, would have been pumped underground for storage.

The project was revived by President Obama's administration and scaled back to use an existing power plant in Meredosia in western Illinois, though underground storage remains a key piece of the plan.

The Department of Energy would cover $1 billion of the cost and the plant is scheduled to begin operating in 2017. The coal companies would cover the rest of the cost, but the state plan would help them recover the costs from customers.

The Illinois Commerce Commission in 2012 signed off on the plan to add the surcharge to customers' bills.

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