Since 2016, the residents of three communities in the central Mexican state of Puebla have succeeded in blocking the construction of the private hydropower plant Puebla 1. One legal battle argued that the mandatory Aboriginal consultation was not carried out and the mega-project will cause environmental damage. This screenshot from a video shows a protest by the Fundar Center for Analysis and Research in one of the communities. CREDIT: IPS / FundarMEXICO CITY, Mar 19 (IPS) – Indigenous farmers on communal land have legally blocked a private solar farm in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatan since 2016 because the company hasn’t conducted consultations with local indigenous communities and the risk of environmental damage.
“They opened roads without the knowledge of the local community. A consultation took place in another community, but not here,” Aurelio Mugarte, a Mayan indigenous peoples, told IPS over the phone.
Like his neighbors, Mugarte cultivates 1,468 hectares of public land on the ejido of San José Tipceh, which is made available to the community for cultivation.
The solar energy project is divided into Ticul A and B and is owned by Vega Solar Energía, a Mexican subsidiary of the US-based Sun Power, whose majority shareholder is the French oil giant Total SE. Around 700 hectares of jungle will be cleared in an area that is sensitive due to its biodiversity and its karst terrain, which is porous and prone to sinkholes.
Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, which also includes the states of Campeche and Quintana Roo, the state of Yucatan is the second most important terrestrial ecosystem in Latin America after the Amazon rainforest.
Local communities have filed two lawsuits against the park that would cover parts of the communities of Muna, Sacalum and Ticul, approximately 1,300 km southeast of Mexico City.
The facility is a product of the 2013 energy reform that opened up the generation and marketing of energy in Mexico to domestic and foreign private capital. The transmission and distribution of electricity was left in the hands of the state Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
As a result of the reform, the government held three electricity auctions in 2016 and 2017 for the construction of generators that would sell their production to the CFE. In 2016, Vega Solar Energía was one of the winners with Ticul A and B, who will install around 1.22 million solar modules to generate around 600 megawatts (MW).
“The reform affected us and allowed companies to step in,” complained Mugarte. “The government has tried to favor the company. If renewable energies destroy nature, I see no benefit.”
Now President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has been in office since December 2018, wants to reverse the energy reform introduced by his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto in August 2013, at least as far as electrical energy is concerned.
The new Electricity Act, which came into effect on March 9, favors CFE plants over private generators, although they are more expensive.
In the electricity wholesale market (MEM) managed by the state autonomous national energy center (Cenace), from now on the electricity generated by the national electricity system must first be sold before the electricity from private companies, especially from wind and solar sources.
The government and its party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), did not touch the constitution as they did in 2013. However, the changes reverse the energy reform that opened generation and commercialization to private capital.
The 2013 reform aimed to encourage market competition and lower rates. But CFE argued that it was harmed by the changes and that it lost money when the electricity it was generating went down. In January, 98 generators took part in MEM, including CFE and private operators.
With the counter-reform for electricity, Cenace must first sell the energy generated by CFE hydropower plants, then electricity from fossil fuels and other sources of the state-owned company, then wind and solar energy from private generators and finally electricity generated with electricity, gas and steam in private combined cycle power plants.
The Puebla 1 hydropower project would divert the Ajajalpan River in the central Mexican state of Puebla, damaging the main water source of three communities in the northern highlands of this Mexican region. CREDIT: IPS / FundarIt also demands that the autonomous energy regulation commission invalidate the permits received by individuals for self-sufficiency in order to generate their own electricity from sources such as gas, hydropower, wind and solar energy in a so-called decentralized or decentralized generation.
In addition, future generation permits will be subject to the planning criteria of the Ministry of Energy, which means that they are subject to state regulations. In addition, the new regulations eliminate the need for electricity auctions.
The application of the new law is temporarily suspended by order of a judge, although it is believed that it will continue.
In Latin America’s second largest economy with 126 million inhabitants, electricity consumption is currently around 270,000 gigawatt hours, half of which is provided by CFE and the rest by private operators.
The sources of electricity are mainly fossil fuels (around 76 percent), hydropower (around eight percent), wind (6.59 percent), solar (four percent), nuclear power (three percent) and geothermal energy (1.5 percent).
The communities affected by megaprojects feel that the counter-reform will give them a respite, as they will no longer be in the shadow of private companies. However, they are not free from the CFE, which historically has ignored their demands.
“We don’t think the changes will benefit us because the energy is not for us,” said Mugarte, whose area is powered by electricity from a thermoelectric power plant that runs on fossil fuels.
The energy reform left the local communities at the mercy of the CFE and the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) as well as private companies because they could not refuse to install a project.
Although this requires a social impact assessment and consultations with indigenous communities, these were carried out after the project was planned and designed and became a mere formality.
As a result, affected peoples have chosen to go to court for failing to receive a pressurized consultation without pressure and with adequate and timely information prior to the planning and construction of the projects.
In other regions of the country the same scheme was repeated as in the Yucatan.
In the central state of Puebla, the company Deselec 1-Comexhidro plans to build the Puebla 1 hydropower plant to supply the Mexican subsidiaries of the US retail chain Walmart, a restaurant chain and a clothing chain with electricity.
“Yes, it has changed things a bit because it has allowed the energy to be Mexican since it was privatized,” José Galindo, a member of the Totonaco indigenous people in eastern Mexico, told IPS by phone from the San Felipe Petatlán community in Puebla “But it’s worrying nonetheless. They want to keep managing the oil and contamination and building more dams that continue to obstruct the watersheds.”
Galindo, a member of the non-governmental regional council of Totonaco, made it clear that “we no longer feel supported by the CFE and that we do not feel that we have better quality energy”.
Since 2016, residents of three municipalities in Puebla have blocked a hydropower mega-project on the Ajajalpan River, their main water source, with two legal steps. The so-called Puebla 1 hydropower project would build two dams, Ahuacoya and Zoquiapa, the first of which would be 45 meters high and have a generating capacity of 60 MW.
“There was a simulation of the indigenous consultation. They had permission a few years ago and just told people what they wanted to do. The government institutions were part of the simulation. They never informed us about the project,” said Galindo, his community with 4,000 inhabitants is around 230 kilometers south of Mexico City.
Before the changes in the electricity commercialization system were legally approved, authorities and organizations from 14 indigenous peoples applied to participate in renewable energy generation.
They stressed the need for a “new model of the social and democratic energy transition without the involvement of large multinational companies or private mega-projects”.
Since 2018, disgruntled communities have managed to halt at least six renewable projects in the Yucatan and one hydropower plant in Puebla.
The CFE does not plan to invest in renewable energy as it prefers fossil fuels, large hydropower plants, and nuclear power.
Municipalities like San José Tipceh and San Felipe Tepatlán just want the projects to be canceled.
“We want the environmental permit to be denied. If renewable energies destroy nature, I see no benefit. Have them brought into the desert or somewhere that does not harm nature,” said Mugarte.
For its part, Galindo hopes the hydropower plant will be shut down. “That would be very important as there are a lot of rights violations. I wish each city could have its own energy and control,” he said.
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