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NAX: The future wasn't now, or even later, in this deal - Odessa American: Ken Brodnax

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NAX: The future wasn't now, or even later, in this deal

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Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2010 12:00 am

It wasn’t that long ago that Odessa and the surrounding area were consumed in the pursuit of something called FutureGen, an idealistic concept that would transform a coal-burning plant into a “zero-emissions” power generating facility.

This was to be a federal government venture, and the proposed price tag rose continually as communities across the nation competed to be home to the plant.

Odessa in particular exhausted considerable time and resources in hopes of being named the home of FutureGen. A site near Penwell met the conditions so well that it became one of the four finalists in the long and involved selection process.

All the hope and excitement over a facility that would bring jobs and a lot of other assets to the Permian Basin ended in late 2007 when Mattoon, Ill., was chosen as the lucky site.

Well, fast-forward almost three years and the disappointment felt throughout this area seems almost laughable.

It clearly was a case of be careful of what you wish for.

Just last week, Mattoon washed its hands of FutureGen and all the political ups and downs that came with it. Once the euphoria of being named the site for the futuristic facility wore off, Mattoon saw the project killed by the feds. Then it was revived. Finally, it was altered to the point that a plant wouldn’t be built there, but the area would store carbon dioxide generated by another plant that would be retrofitted.

The Holy Grail turned out to be a mere cracked coffee mug.

During the seemingly endless selection process, some of us newsroom cynics dared to mention something called the Superconducting Super Collider. This, too, was a federal pipedream where atoms would be smashed and life would be altered. It was to be a huge endeavor, taking in miles and miles of land and changing everything close to it. Waxahachie, a small town south of the Metroplex, got the nod and there was much celebrating. And, of course, that dream eventually evaporated. The SSC was DOA.

Meanwhile, some of the groundwork for FutureGen may be paying off big time for that rejected Penwell site. A private venture, Summit Power Group, seems well on the road to building the clean-coal power plant that the federal government couldn’t build.

Granted, the first shovel of dirt hasn’t been turned, but Summit has purchased the Penwell land and has received a huge pile of federal money to help get the plant up and running. It’s much more of a sure thing than FutureGen ever was. And there are positive developments — like alliances with big-name ventures and investment from successful entrepreneurs — that bode well for the next few years.

It might sound political to say that you’re better off dealing with private concerns than federal bureaucrats when it comes to such grand projects. But it certainly is true in this case.

And it would be sort of crass to point out that Odessa gets the last laugh in this particular instance. But that’s also true.

The pursuers of FutureGen, and later Summit, refused to let sour grapes foment, instead leaving them to ferment so there will be good wine to celebrate not getting that government nightmare.

Odessa, TX

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