FutureGen

In this undated image released by the U.S. Department of Energy is an artist's rendering of the next-generation FutureGen power plant. Officials in Washington announced Tuesday the $1.8 billion experimental pollution-free coal burning power plant will be built in Mattoon.

MATTOON (AP) — Illinois beat out Texas for a futuristic power plant aimed at burning coal without emitting global warming gases, a $1.8 billion venture expected to bring hundreds of jobs to this central Illinois town.

Known as FutureGen, the plant will be built on several hundred acres near Mattoon, which was chosen over sites in nearby Tuscola and two Texas towns, Jewett and Penwell.

A standing-room-only crowd gathered in the old Times Theater to watch the announcement on a big screen erupted in a roar when Mattoon was announced as the winner. People raised their hands in the air, exchanged high-fives and some women began to cry.

‘‘I brought two speeches today for two possible outcomes and this is what I’m going to do with one of them,’’ said a teary-eyed Angela Griffin, president of the Coles County economic development group, as she held the consolation speech in the air and ripped it to pieces.

‘‘Game over,’’ she said.

Within minutes, someone changed the sign on the marquis outside the building to ‘‘FutureGen, We Got It.’’

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who arrived in Mattoon later, said the town was chosen for the right reasons, including because it’s in a coal-producing state.

‘‘I know this is the biggest economic development opportunity for east-central Illinois in decades, so Merry Christmas Mattoon,’’ Blagojevich said.

Griffin said representatives from the FutureGen Alliance were to be in Mattoon Wednesday to begin seismic surveys of 16 square miles of land.

President Bush has touted FutureGen as key to developing carbon-free coal-burning power plants. It is supposed to be virtually pollution-free and produce both electricity and hydrogen — while its carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas, is to be captured and stored deep underground.

The private-government project with the three-fourths of the cost coming from taxpayers, has been under increasing scrutiny in Congress. Some lawmakers have questioned its soaring cost — nearly double the $950 million originally projected — and its long delays.

Barb Butts, owner of Crites Title Co. in Mattoon, which did all the title search work for land the Alliance wants to buy, said she was anxious to see building begin for fear something might go wrong.

‘‘Personally, I’ve been concerned with what we see in the paper, that the cost has doubled,’’ she said.

But she said Mattoon, ‘‘really needed this. Mattoon is really kind of a factory town and we’ve some of the manufacturing go away.’’

Texas officials also congratulated Illinois.

‘‘Naturally we are disappointed that the FutureGen Alliance ultimately chose a project site in Illinois, but we congratulate our friends in Illinois and offer our full support for the project,’’ Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Michael L. Williams, who chairs the FutureGen Texas team, said in a statement.

Williams said he will begin working to ‘‘make FutureGen-like projects a reality in Texas.’’

Tuscola and Douglas County officials said the process helped spotlight the region’s economic-development potential.

‘‘The exposure that the FutureGen Alliance has helped us achieve makes us firmly committed to the development of new energy technologies in the east-central Illinois region,’’ said Brian Moody, Tuscola’s economic development chief.

‘‘We all let out a cheer when he said Mattoon,’’ Jack Lavin, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s director, said while rushing to Mattoon to celebrate. Lavin got word of Mattoon’s victory in a telephone call moments before Mudd told the world in a Webcast.

‘‘We’re going to do something to put Illinois in the center of the world in clean-coal technology,’’ Lavin said. The world will be watching us, the world will be visiting us.’’

Illinois’ federal lawmakers also hailed the decision.

‘‘Downstate Illinois has the coal, the geology and the commitment needed to make this project a success,’’ said Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, whose district includes both Mattoon and Tuscola, praised the ‘‘extraordinary effort put forth to make this happen.’’

‘‘We finally got the big one,’’ he said.

The long-awaited site announcement had become embroiled in controversy in recent weeks.

Energy Department representatives last week told the industry group it was ‘‘inadvisable’’ to go ahead with a site selection at this time. The department said it still was examining some of public comments received in response to environmental reviews of the four sites.

‘‘We advised them not to move forward,’’ department spokeswoman Julie Ruggiero said Monday.

The FutureGen project, with hundreds of jobs and prestige at stake, has been the subject of intense lobbying by lawmakers from the two competing states.

In courting FutureGen, Illinois offered a $17 million grant to help pay for various project costs, as well as an estimated $15 million in sales tax exemptions on materials and equipment through local enterprise zones. The state also has set aside $50 million for below-market rate loans to the FutureGen alliance.

Both Illinois and Texas sweetened the pot by passing laws indemnifying the alliance of any legal entanglements arising from the plant’s carbon dioxide.

The alliance members — including major U.S. coal-burning utilities American Electric Power and Southern Co., and the country’s largest coal producer, Peabody Energy — have committed $400 million over 10 years.

Congress is giving the program $75 million this year, $33 million less than the administration had wanted. Committees overseeing Energy Department spending expressed concern that FutureGen was siphoning money away from other clean-coal programs.

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