The invasion didn't happen then and hasn't to date.

By 2007, the project cost had swelled from $417 million in 2001 to $1.3 billion in 2007. More than ever, the project needed a partner to make up the difference.

"Any time you're talking about trying to invest $700 or $800 million, it's not easy," said Brad Enzi, vice president and Two Elk project leader for North American Power Group Ltd. "It's subject to a lot of things. It's subject to the power market. It's subject to the overall economic condition of our country."

Enzi said he's been talking with a couple prospects to share in the current estimated cost of $800 million, a slightly lower cost than six years ago but still nearly double the initial estimates. A design change a couple years ago from burning only coal to also burning beetle-killed timber â¿¿ earning Two Elk precertification from California as a renewable energy source for that state â¿¿ has not yielded any takers, however.

"It feels like it's close, sometimes, and then you might be further apart than you thought," he said. "And then other times you're closer than you thought."

As for the bond funding, it hasn't been spent. North American Power Group bought back the bonds in 2008, and they've been on the shelf ever since.

"Technically, there's no money out there. There's just paper," said Campbell County's bond attorney for Two Elk, Mike Reppe, with the firm Kutak Rock.

Two Elk also got government help in 2009 and 2010 from two Energy Department economic stimulus grants totaling $10 million. Researchers at Montana State and Stanford universities used part of the funding to analyze existing geological data to see if the Two Elk site could store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Under one of the grants, North American Power Group also proposed to drill a deep well to collect more data. How much of that grant got spent isn't clear, but the well didn't get drilled.

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