Old plants, buses are sold to poorer nations
But the demolition is hardly a victory in the battle against manmade climate change.
Virtually every piece of the 2,600-ton plant is being shipped to
From 4-ton trucks to 40-ton boilers, US vehicles and equipment are finding a second life in developing countries -- postponing meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by inefficiently using energy or directly emitting carbon dioxide.
A 1950s-era paper-making machine from the Curtis Paper mill in Adams is operating in
"This clearly isn't what we want to happen," said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force, a national advocacy group. "It's troubling that we'd be handing down the remnants of our industrial-era technology rather than helping these places with cleaner options."
When a factory closes or a school bus fleet is retired in the
This international trade in retired equipment and vehicles, which a German research group in 2003 estimated at $150 billion annually, is rarely discussed as scientists call for immediate measures to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. Yet as New Englanders trade in sport utility vehicles for hybrid cars and move toward more climate-friendly technologies, the exporting of old equipment represents a significant leak in the expanding worldwide effort to plug emissions of gases that trap the sun's heat.
Often, technology considered obsolete in the
A generation ago, economists and scientists envisioned a different future. Rich, developed countries were going to invest in cutting-edge technology to demonstrate its effectiveness. Then, developing countries would use that climate-friendly technology to leapfrog over wealthy nations' cast-offs.
"It just hasn't happened and we need a return to that vision," said Dale Jamieson, director of environmental studies at
The story of the
A new home in
About 10 miles southwest of Guatemala City earlier this month, dozens of workers in hard hats poured a concrete foundation on two muddy acres behind a sprawling textile mill. Thousands of rusty tubes and pipes from the
Guillermo Zimeri M., owner of the cavernous Textisur textile mill, is buying the power plant to reduce his energy bills and better compete with mills in other countries.
A new power plant would cost more and take almost three times
longer to complete. Largely because of China's and India's explosive growth, waits for specialized industrial equipment like boilers and furnaces can stretch two years or more, and steel and metal prices are spiking.
Founded in 1981, the Villa Nueva textile mill employs about 900 workers who use a mix of high-tech and home-taught sewing to produce close to 2 million yards of towels, fabrics, shirts, pants, and mattress covers every month. Row upon row of automated machines transform raw cotton into long threads in a warehouse-sized room where tiny puffs of cotton float in the air. Nearby, dozens of clicking machines weave filaments into giant white rolls of spandex. Women and men in another room hunch over sewing machines, hemming cotton towels.
Trade restrictions have recently eased between the
Textisur now gets about 40 percent of its electricity from independently owned power plants that burn heavy oil. Zimeri also has two boilers that use oil to produce steam for the textile mill. As the price of oil has soared, Textisur's operating costs have skyrocketed.
"It is our future," Zimeri said.
Coal plant equals progress
In Villa Nueva, where a fine layer of soot can coat the skin, the hand-me-down coal plant in many ways represents environmental progress.
The oil-burning facilities from which the textile mill gets energy have few emission controls, so the
"It sounds strange, but having a coal plant in
Edgar Figueroa, a Guatemalan businessman who conceived and brokered the deal with his energy consulting company Simsa, is proud that the coal plant met strict US Environmental Protection Agency standards. If it had not closed in the mid-1990s after the paper mill it powered shut down, the plant probably would still be legally operating in
In Villa Nueva, the power plant will also provide excess steam to the mill. This will increase energy efficiency and allow Zimeri to shut down the mill's two oil-burning boilers, which have few emission controls.
But the coal plant will not reduce the discharge of carbon dioxide, though precise calculations are not available. First, burning coal typically releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning oil. Second, the oil-burning power plants will probably continue to operate to supply
Facing economic realities
When the coal plant goes online, Zimeri probably won't scrap the two oil-burning boilers. He will probably sell them to be used elsewhere -- further evidence of the economic realities undermining the drive to blunt global warming.
Such secondhand trade in capital equipment is worldwide in scope and growing, according to Adelphi Research, a German think tank that published the 2003 report, one of the few to focus on the phenomenon. For example, in
The report estimates that secondhand machinery, often built with older technology, consumes an average of 20 percent more energy than modern equipment -- often resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006, a Belgian research group said the market for used machinery was booming, with a growth rate in the double digits.
Economists and even environmentalists are loath to condemn developing countries for buying secondhand equipment and vehicles to support their growing economies.
But they suggest some solutions. Nations could adopt stricter trade restrictions, foreign investment policies or environmental laws that would ban the trade of secondhand machinery or vehicles that don't meet certain efficiency standards. Industrialized countries should also assist developing countries to buy newer and better technologies to leapfrog over older equipment.
"This leapfrogging process is not automatic," said Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the Energy Technology Innovation Project at
"Clearly our position and policy in terms of trade doesn't match up," said Danilo Pelletiere, a senior fellow in the school of public policy at
Village moves forward
All that is left of the
Early on, some residents had discussed the possibility of creating a public art piece on the coal silo.
"Something that said this used to be a coal plant . . . or a monument to a new form of environmentalism," said Frank Abbondanzio, Montague town administrator. "But of course, we know it leaves here and just goes somewhere else."