DOE’s move to ‘restructure’ FutureGen clears the way for more rational R&D.
When President Bush announced the FutureGen initiative halfway through his first term, industry veterans instinctively understood its purpose. Nominally a public-private partnership to build a “zero-emissions” coal-fired power plant, FutureGen stood as a symbol for the administration’s climate-change strategy. It helped the government argue mandatory carbon constraints were unnecessary, because America will develop more green technology than any other country in the world.
While it was serving this cosmetic purpose, FutureGen also offered hope to coal producers and coal-fired power generators. It embodied Washington’s commitment to coal, and President Bush’s emphatic promise that new technology would make coal compatible with a carbon-constrained world.
Thus, when DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman announced FutureGen’s “restructuring” on January 30, the action came as a painful blow to the coal-power industry.
Given the political purpose of the FutureGen initiative, that blow was more symbolic than it was substantive—at least for anyone outside the FutureGen Alliance. But the symbolism was deeply unsettling to the coal industry, adding official insult to the injuries it has suffered in recent months (see “Coal’s Black Future”).