$350M in stimulus funds could help build coal plant, carbon dioxide sequestration in Texas

By Betsy Blaney, AP
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Odessa, power company await word on $350M grant

LUBBOCK, Texas — Two years after missing out on an experimental coal-fired power plant, the city of Odessa hasn’t given up on bringing a similar project to town and hopes to hear within days whether $350 million in federal stimulus funds will help make that happen.

Mattoon, Ill., was chosen in December 2007 as the site for the near-zero emissions FutureGen power plant. Odessa officials and Seattle-based Summit Power Group, Inc., have since used the legwork that went into applying for FutureGen to promote Summit’s even-larger Texas Clean Energy Project — dubbed NowGen by some in the Permian Basin.

Summit’s proposed $1.7 billion plant would be capable of producing 400 megawatts of power, enough for 400,000 homes. The $2.4 billion FutureGen is slated to be a 275-megawatt plant.

“This is the perfect kind of plant in the perfect location,” said Laura Miller, Summit’s spokeswoman and a former Dallas mayor who led opposition to the construction of 11 traditional coal plants in Texas.

Miller and others working to bring the plant to Odessa hope an announcement on the stimulus funding will come before the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which begins Monday in Copenhagen.

The Summit plant could be built where FutureGen was to have been — 20 miles west of Odessa in Penwell — or at another suitable West Texas site. Like FutureGen, Summit would burn coal for power but store emissions of carbon dioxide emissions deep underground, trapping the greenhouse gas that usually enters the atmosphere from traditional coal-fired plants.

Supporters say the sequestered carbon dioxide could benefit the region’s oil industry. Seventy percent of all the Permian Basin’s oil — about 31 billion barrels — remains trapped in reservoirs. Injecting the carbon dioxide into oil reservoirs, which oil companies already have done in the region, makes it easier to extract the oil.

But unlike the FutureGen plant, which plans to permanently store the carbon dioxide, Summit’s plant will immediately sell the sequestered gas.

“It really makes West Texas a great place to start because it’s a revenue generator,” said Hoxie Smith, a geologist in Midland who is working as a consultant to Summit. “You can’t do that elsewhere.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Clean Air Task Force both have written letters in support of the Summit plant.

Miller said the environmental groups support the project because legislation passed in Texas earlier this year requires the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology to monitor and verify sequestration at the site.

Officials say the Summit plant’s construction would require 1,200 jobs, and 150 high-skilled permanent positions. The plant also will be a magnet for researchers and spinoff industries, said Gary Vest, director of economic development for the Odessa Chamber of Commerce.

If the stimulus funding comes through, the Odessa plant would be completed in 2014, a short time after a $4.9 billion electric transmission system being built by the state across parts of Texas is slated to be finished, Miller said.

“That’s an integral part of this,” Vest said. “That’s very important.”

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