Mexia rolls out red carpet for FutureGen team

By Mike Anderson Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer
Sunday, February 05, 2006

MEXIA — Residents turned out in force to impress state officials who recently toured this city about 45 minutes east of Waco in their search for a site to build an innovative power plant.

More than 200 area government and business leaders as well as curious Limestone County residents packed the Mexia Civic Center Friday morning for a forum with the five-member state team. The officials were in Mexia on the seventh of nine stops to find a location for the experimental FutureGen plant, which would seek to extract energy from coal with little or no pollution.

The billion-dollar federally funded plant would convert the coal into gas, as opposed to the traditional burning method, producing fewer pollutants. One main product, carbon dioxide, which is a subject of concern in international global-warming treaties, would be stored deep under ground, FutureGen officials have said.

The Heart of Texas Council of Governments proposed the Mexia site in January as a possible location for the plant.

Local officials appeared to pull out all the stops to welcome the FutureGen team Friday morning The state team was serenaded by the Mexia High School band as it entered the civic center, where it was greeted by a standing ovation. Only Mother Nature seemed unwilling to lend support. In a rare moment during the ongoing area drought, a cold front pushed rain through the area, preventing the team from either visiting the suddenly muddy site or flying over it for an aerial view.

But Limestone County Emergency Management Coordinator Matt Groveton, who has taken a lead role in putting together the proposal, took it all in stride.

"We've been managing wildfires, we've been dealing with the drought just like everyone else," Groveton said. "It's a mixed blessing, certainly, but you don't worry about things you can't control."

He added, "They pretty much knew about the geology of the site before they came here anyway. Everything went wonderfully. We really feel positive. They had a lot of wonderful things to say about our proposal."

FutureGen team member Jay Kipper, an associate director of the bureau of economic geology at the University of Texas at Austin, said the group was impressed by the turnout in support of bringing the plant to Mexia.

"That's an important thing, the U.S. Department of Energy is going to put a billion dollars into this and what they don't want is signs that say 'Go away FutureGen,' " Kipper said. "What's really nice about this plant is it's an opportunity for heavy industry and environmentalists to come together. It's a difficult concept to be against."

Kipper said the team will winnow the list of nine contenders down to two or three in the next few weeks. The federal government will release its requirements for the site later this month, Kipper said. Based on that report, Texas officials will likely pick one proposed site for the state this summer. Texas will compete with a handful of other states to host the site, and the federal government is expected to make its final selection early in 2007, he said.