By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced on Friday, Feb. 7, that his government will hold an open referendum on whether to allow the operation of a state-owned thermoelectric power plant in Yecapixtla, Morelos.
The referendum will be held in all municipalities throughout the central Mexican state of Morelos, as well as in the neighboring states of Puebla and Tlaxcala, on Saturday, Feb. 23, and Sunday, Feb. 24, and a decision on the plant, which is under the jurisdiction of the financially moribund government-run Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), will be rendered based on that polling’s results, the president said.
The power plant was constructed during the administration of former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and includes transmission lines and a private gas duct, but was never put into operations, in large part as a consequence of protests by residents of the area who feared that it would disrupt their environment and daily activities.
Morelos is the only Mexican state that does not produce electricity, which means it must currently import energy from outside at a hefty cost to industries and consumers.
AMLO pointed that in Mexico, about half of all electricity is produced by private-sector companies (many of which are foreign-owned), a situation which he said his administration hopes to change during his six-year term in office.
If the plant’s operation is approved, AMLO said that 32 affected towns by its activities will receive federal discounts on their electric bills as compensation and that the same number of ejido communal farms that the duct and transmission lines transverse will be given 40,000 pesos per hectare.
AMLO said he would be traveling to Morelos over the weekend to meet with residents who would be affected by the plant’s operations.
AMLO, who announced the one-question referendum during his daily early morning press conference at the National Palace, was asked who would oversee its carrying out, but said that no decision has yet been made on that matter.
Notwithstanding, he said that the entire referendum process would the transparent and fair, and that there are legal bases for it to be overseen by the Secretariat of the Interior (SeGob).
Before taking office on Dec. 1, AMLO held a controversial 10-point “nonbinding” referendum on a number of issues ranging from the cancelation of construction on a new airport outside Mexico City to the development of a tourist train that will run through the Yucatan Peninsula.
Many of his critics said that that referendum was political skewed because it did not represent the majority of voters (only 1 million people participated), the questions were stilted to favor his platform policies, and there was no oversight to ensure that people did not vote more than once.