When Francis Uthell of rural Effingham learned property located near his home north of Effingham could be the site of the world’s first coal-fueled, near zero emissions power production plant, he had questions about the plant and how it would affect the area.

“I wanted some information about what kind of plant it was going to be, where it was going to be located and where the transmission lines would be located,” said Uthell.

Uthell, along with nearly 50 other residents including city officials, state officials, property owners and business owners, attended a public hearing Thursday evening to get answers about the FutureGen project.

Following a presentation by area officials, Uthell said the information “covered everything” he had questions about, and he added he thought the project “would be OK” for the area.

City officials last week announced Effingham is one of four sites in the state of Illinois and one of 22 sites in nine states being considered for the federal government’s $1 billion demonstration project to create the power plant known as FutureGen.

FutureGen is planned as a public-private partnership to build a midsize prototype power plant that employs coal gasification technology to create hydrogen fuel as well as electricity. The FutureGen plant will generate electricity while capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide geological formations. The plant also will produce hydrogen and byproducts for use by other industries.

Sites in central Illinois — including Mattoon, Tuscola and Marshall — are being considered due to their geographic location, particularly their proximity to Mount Simon, an underground sandstone-saline formation, which would allow the power plant to sequester carbon dioxide underground to reduce greenhouse gases, rather than releasing them into the atmosphere, which leads to environmental concerns such as global warming. Originally, locations in the southern part of Illinois were on the list, but due to the proximity of the New Madrid Fault, those are no longer being considered.

Economic Development Director Todd Hull told the audience the city has been working over the past several months with FutureGen, although the city didn’t know specifics about the project until a few weeks ago.

After reviewing different sites in the city, Hull said officials are submitting a portion of property north of the city for the possible location of the power plant.

The property, which is part of the Henry Grunloh Trust, is located on the east side of U.S. 45 and north of Howell Asphalt. The 270-acre site meets several of the requirements for the project, including size, location to the interstate and accessibility to the railroad.

The project is expected to create 1,300 construction jobs and then 150 permanent jobs, according to FutureGen Industrial Alliance. City officials earlier said the plant would create 250 permanent jobs, but that figure was not reflected in information presented.

According to Hull, the plant would not only provide jobs for the city, but also would create spin-off companies and attract visitors from other parts of the world, which would benefit local businesses.

“This would be a showcase plant for the world,” he said.

Congressman John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who supports the project and who spoke at the hearing, said the venture is not only important for the United States, but for the world, which is why the federal government is taking a lead role in the development of FutureGen.

“We have various plants out there that are pretty old, and it is tougher to keep them into environmental compliance,” said Shimkus in an interview before the public hearing. “We are going to use electricity. We are going to consume electricity. So, we need to generate electricity.”

Although coal is one of the most effective ways to supply electricity, Shimkus said there have been environmental concerns relating to the process. However, the near zero emissions plant will generate electricity and reduce concerns of environmental effects because of the new technology.

“This plant is not just important to the United States, but it is important for providing power to the world,” he said.

According to information presented at the hearing, site finalists for the plant will be announced on July 21, with a final site selection expected in the fall of 2007. The plant is expected to be online by 2013.

Although Effingham and the three other Illinois sites have made the list of possible locations, Shimkus said, “It is still a competitive environment.” He added he is cautious not to get the public’s hopes up that Effingham will be the site selected.

Also during the public hearing, information regarding the operations of the plant and the geological formations that have led to Effingham being a possible site were presented by experts in the field, including Bill Hoback of the Office of Coal Development and Robert Finley of the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Kim Wiedman can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 128 or kwiedman@effinghamdailynews.com.

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