Two Big Backers Pull Out Of Clean Coal Project

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American Electric Power (AEP) and Southern Co. are backing out of the government sponsored clean coal project, FutureGen.

Environmental Capital: “We’ve moved onto other projects,” Southern Chief Executive David Ratcliffe told the Dow Jones Newswires. He said he told Energy Sec. Steven Chu that “I’ve had to devote my resources to other, more tangible projects that are moving faster.”

AEP CEO Mike Morris also played the moving-too-slowly-for-us card. He said his company would focus on carbon-sequestration projects such as one at the Mountaineer plant in West Virginia. “It’s going to happen a whole lot sooner than Futuregen,” he said.

What does this mean for the future of Futuregen? The demonstration coal plant was meant to figure out the best way to capture and store carbon emissions. The Obama administration has earmarked $1 billion of stimulus money to help pay for the at least $1.5 billion price tag.

But if big backers keep bailing, even that kind of bump might not be enough the Futuregen to ever be built. The project still faces an uncertain future, what with members moving on and lots and lots of technical hurdles to be overcome.

Critics argue that there’s no such thing as clean coal. If it does exist, the government wants to find out. If these high profile backers pull out, it will be interesting to see what happens.

These companies might be playing chicken with DOE head Steven Chu. If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear, especially with energy issues, it’s that the government is willing to cut big checks.

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