After a turbulent few months of project proposals and cancellations in states like Indiana and Wyoming, the movement promoting clean coal for power production saw another sign of hope last week as Omaha-based Tenaska Inc. proposed to build the nation's first new conventional coal-fueled power plant that woul also capture carbon dioxide (CO2) near Sweetwater, TX. The captured CO2 would then be sold for use to enhance oil production in the Permian Basin, resulting in geologic storage.

Under the Trailblazer Energy Center plan, the company plans to construct a $3 billion-plus, 600 MW coal-fueled generating plant able to capture up to 90% of the CO2 emissions that would otherwise enter the atmosphere. The volume of CO2 expected to be sold to oil producers could be used to recover enough oil to add more than $1 billion a year of oil production to the Texas economy.

The announcement comes less than a month after the clean coal technology movement was rattled when the Department of Energy (DOE) withdrew its support from the original FutureGen project, which was expected to be a single cutting edge energy project that could prove that coal could be burned for power generation with little or no pollution. Late last month the DOE "restructured" the 2003 proposal away from the single living laboratory model and instead focused on adding carbon capture and storage technology to multiple commercial-scale integrated gasification combined-cycle clean coal power plants (see NGI, Feb. 4).

In its announcement Tuesday, Tenaska noted that the final decision to proceed with the project will be made in 2009 based on a number of factors, including the availability of local, state and federal incentives; final project cost estimates; and projected market prices for electricity and CO2. "Current estimates of these factors make the project appear to be economically feasible," the company said. Construction could begin in late 2009 and be completed in 2014.

An air permit application, the first formal step in gaining approval to build the plant, was filed Tuesday with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to David Fiorelli, CEO of Tenaska's business development group. The proposed construction site is a 1,919-acre tract east of Sweetwater and north of Interstate 20 in Nolan County. Tenaska said the project would provide a significant boost to the local economy, providing up to 2,000 jobs at peak construction and more than 100 permanent jobs during operation.

Bill Braudt, Tenaska general manager of business development, said "the benefits of this proposed plant are many. It will provide a source of badly needed, environmentally sound electric generating capacity. This plant will use abundant and relatively low-cost coal and help keep Texas electricity prices in check."

Tenaska said it is working with Sweetwater-area officials to determine the feasibility of the project and to provide accurate and timely information to area residents.

If built, the plant would be the first new commercial coal-fueled power plant, other than small research projects, to capture and provide for storage of CO2. As such, it would be a breakthrough in environmentally responsible electricity production that has been sought by Texas civic and business leaders, environmentalists and energy consumers, Tenaska said.

The CO2 would be captured and transported via pipeline to oil fields in the Permian Basin where it would be used in enhanced oil recovery and stored in the basin's geologic formations. CO2 has been used to increase oil production in West Texas for more than 30 years.

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