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Texas competes for $1 billion zero-emission coal plant

Associated Press
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
January 12, 2006

DALLAS - Nine Texas sites are under consideration for the world's first near-zero-emissions coal power plant, a $1 billion project headed by the U.S. Department of Energy and a consortium of eight companies from the United States, China and Australia.

"This will be the ultimate power plant," Energy Department spokesman John Grasser said Thursday. "It embraces efficiencies and environmental controls unseen up until this point".

Known as FutureGen, the plant would turn coal into a hydrogen-rich gas that would then be used to produce electricity for about 275,000 single family homes. The process would not release into the atmosphere pollutants usually associated with the country's 600 coal-burning plants, such as carbon dioxide. The burning of fossil fuels has been blamed by scientists as the cause of global warming.

President Bush announced the need for FutureGen in 2003 as a way to address global warming, and touted technologies that would capture carbon dioxide for other uses. Those include fertilizers or liquefying the gas to inject it into old oil wells and push remaining oil or natural gas to the surface.

Government councils or planning commissions in Texas competing for the plant include Alamo, Brazos Valley, Deep East Texas, East Texas, Heart of Texas, Houston-Galveston, Middle Rio Grande, Nortex Regional and the Permian Basin.

Texas will face competition from several states, among them Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wyoming and Illinois, said Michael L. Williams, head of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas.

But the state's formidable energy infrastructure - rail lines, ports, and gas pipelines - should place Texas in a competitive position, he said.

The Energy Department will soon request formal proposals from states and private organizations. Williams estimated the government will give applicants three to four months to prepare their proposals, but he said the Texas entities had been preparing for about a year for the opportunity. Energy officials have said the plant would begin operations in 2012.

"We need this because energy globally is pulling hard on supply right now," said Scott Tinker, director of the state's Bureau of Economic Geology. "This is very different from 1973 when the supply was cut off by a cartel. This is a demand pull".

After reviewing the Texas proposals, Tinker said he and others will visit all nine sites and meet with regional officials. An advisory board led by Williams will make a final recommendation to Gov. Rick Perry, who will select a site to propose to the Energy Department.

Steve Howard, chief executive of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, said his group believes a site near Baytown, already home to a major Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery, would be ideal.

"The country has got couple hundred years worth of coal, and finding way to use that cleanly is important to our energy security," Howard said.

At least one environmental group opposed legislation last year providing for financial incentives to lure the project to Texas.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, with the Texas office of Public Citizen, said his group opposed the plan because of its lack of safeguards against possible carbon dioxide leaks.

"Proponents refused to agree to standards that would assure that the carbon stayed in the ground once it was injected," Smith told the San Antonio Express-News, adding there are thousands of uncapped oil wells in Texas.

But, overall, Smith said, he supports the idea of reducing power plant pollution.

"We have to find a way to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," he said.

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