FutureGen Plant Study Projects Over 300 Jobs

Experimental coal-fired power plant would have almost no emissions, capturing the carbon dioxide it generates and storing it underground.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - An experimental coal-fired power plant would create more than 300 jobs and $20 million in annual wages if built in eastern Illinois, and most of the benefits would be local, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study on the proposed $1.5 billion FutureGen plant was proposed by a government-industry partnership deciding whether the plant will be in Illinois or Texas. It was conducted by Southern Illinois University assistant agribusiness economics professor Ira Altman and released as state lawmakers try to push an incentives package through the Legislature.

FutureGen would be a prototype plant that its developers, a consortium of coal and power companies and the Department of Energy, say would have almost no emissions, capturing the carbon dioxide it generates and storing it underground. Some environmentalists have questioned whether such technology is yet reliable.

Potential FutureGen sites include Mattoon and Tuscola in eastern Illinois, and Jewett and Odessa in Texas. A decision is expected this fall.

Altman's study projects that if FutureGen is built in either Mattoon in Coles County or Tuscola in adjacent Douglas County, the power plant would create 360 jobs, 150 directly and another 210 indirectly, and a total of $85.5 million a year in local economic impact. That would include $20 million in wages, an average of more than $55,000 a year.

Plant construction would require another 1,300 workers over four years, according to the study. They would be paid $68.1 million, but few would be local.

The project isn't large enough to have dramatic benefits beyond the immediate area, Altman found, but he projects it would indirectly create another 140 permanent jobs elsewhere in the state, the study did not outline examples, and another $50 million in economic output.

Construction also would indirectly generate another 1,225 jobs around the state over those four years and another $48.9 million in pay.

Altman stressed that his study didn't include potential benefits to the state's coal-producing areas because it's difficult to project just how much coal FutureGen technology might eventually use.

The money and jobs generated, he said, ''could be a lot better, especially in terms of the coal usage in Illinois.''

The study's economic projections sound reasonable to Fred Giertz, an economics professor at the University of Illinois. He considers FutureGen a potentially important building block for Mattoon or Tuscola.

After decades of watching good-paying industrial jobs leave downstate Illinois, economic development now tends to amount to low-wage manufacturing. FutureGen is not a cure-all but promises something better, he said.

An economic development official in Tuscola said the study's conclusions matched much of what he and others had assumed, but the $85 million in projected local economic output was a pleasant surprise.

Illinois has already offered the developers $17 million through a grant and $50 million in low-interest loans. But analysts have said tax breaks and liability waivers offered by Texas mean at least as much to the developers.

Illinois' version of those incentives has been passed by the Senate but has been awaiting House action since March.

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