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SPRINGFIELD -- Within minutes of Mattoon's decision to drop out of a revamped, federally funded experimental clean coal project, Brian Moody's phone began ringing.

Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc., said the Douglas County community's runner-up status in the initial competition for the FutureGen project could put it in a prime position to take on the scaled-down duties rejected Wednesday by Mattoon officials.

"We're going to be having some conversations," Moody said. "We're going to do some due diligence on our part and at least look into it."

The potential scramble for the $125 million storage and training facility got under way after Coles County officials signaled they didn't want to be a part of the altered project.

Up until last week, Mattoon had been planning to serve as host of the experimental, jobs-creating, coal-fired power plant that would test whether carbon pollutants could be stored underground.

Instead, in a surprise announcement, the U.S. Department of Energy said it wants to retrofit a power plant in Meredosia as a near-zero emissions plant and send the pollutants to be stored thousands of feet below Mattoon via a 175-mile-long pipeline.

Mattoon was given until Friday - less than a week - to decide whether it wanted to participate in the project.

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Coles Together President Angela Griffin said the community is "nearly unanimous" in the belief that the project "is not in our best interest."

The move leaves the federal energy officials scrambling to find a new site to store the pollutants.

A top aide to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the agency must move quickly in order to get contracts in place before the clock runs out Sept. 30 on more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money being used to bankroll the experiment.

Rather than getting the power plant, the new site could get a visitors center, a research facility and a training complex.

The training facility for workers would be among the first things built. Matt Rogers, a senior adviser to Chu, said the aim is to get moving on that work within six months in order to have trainees ready to begin retrofitting the Meredosia plant beginning in late 2011.

Durbin said he was disappointed Mattoon and Coles County had rejected the new configuration, but he also was looking for the next potential storage site in Illinois.

Although Rogers said Mattoon has the best geological conditions for storing the carbon, there are other options in the region, including Tuscola.


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