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SPRINGFIELD -- Although it has already been canceled once and has since been significantly altered from its original plan, state and federal officials say an experimental coal-fired power plant is still on track.

In an announcement Tuesday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu signed off on final agreements that formally commit $1 billion in federal funding for the controversial FutureGen project.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin applauded the agreement.

"If there was any remaining question as to whether FutureGen is really coming to Illinois, today we have the answer," said Durbin.

But, there still remain major hurdles for the project, which would transform an old power plant west of Jacksonville into a clean-burning facility and ship carbon pollutants to a disposal site via a first-ever pipeline.

A disposal site has not been identified. Mattoon was originally picked to be the home of a new power plant and a disposal site. But the project was altered in a surprise announcement in August and Coles County officials said they weren't interested in merely serving as a disposal site.

As part of the revamped initiative, the Energy Department will partner with FutureGen to select a host community for the carbon storage site as well as a research complex and a training center.

After Mattoon's exit, a number of central Illinois communities expressed interest in the project including Tuscola, Decatur, Taylorville, McLean County, Springfield and Marshall.

Energy Department spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller would not identify a list of communities that are contending for the storage site. That could come in a few weeks when the cities and counties are pared down.

"We've had informal contact with them," Mueller said.

In addition to selecting a disposal site, which may not happen until 2011, the project also must undergo a feasibility study to determine if the Ameren-owned power plant in Meredosia can be operated in a cost-effective manner.

Certain portions of the project also are dependent on support from the General Assembly, which could take months to hammer out an agreement.

Gov. Pat Quinn praised the project as a good sign for the state's coal industry.

"This $1 billion federal commitment is a critical step to bringing FutureGen to Illinois. We look forward to demonstrating to the world that we can use one of our greatest natural assets in a way that protects our environment and puts more people to work," Quinn said in a statement.

The project, which could generate 900 jobs, has a target completion date of 2015.


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