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By KELIN DILLON

Mexico’s National Energy Control Center (Cenace) has been planning strategically timed blackouts across the country to help reduce energy consumption following a low supply of natural gas, which have now been affecting parts of Mexico that were never planned to lose power. 

Northern Mexico mainly uses gas to generate its energy, and the Texas pipeline that brings large quantities of gas into the nation was frozen by a recent coldsnap on Sunday, Feb. 14, preventing the resource’s southward journey. The pipeline runs directly across the border and into Chihuahua, where it’s supposed to distribute gas to the center and northeastern parts of Mexico.

“One of the most important pipelines in the United States, El Paso Natural Gas, that we have contracts with, now has no gas circulation, and there is no gas being transported through the pipeline,” said Miguel Reyes Hernández, CEO of CFEnergía and CFE International. 

However, energy experts say that the frozen Texas pipeline can still deliver gas, but, following a 41 percent increase in demand in the United States, the gas price increased so much that Mexico no longer wishes to pay for it, resulting in the current situation.

“There is gas availability, the offer did not disappear,” said Eduardo Prud’homme, specialist in natural gas issues and former official of the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE). “There is an offer for gas, but it is very expensive. It’s not that ‘they cut off our gas’. No faucet was closed.” 

The northeastern parts of Mexico likewise suffered from the same coldsnap as Texas, leaving 4.7 million clients of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) in the states of Nuevo León, Coahuila, Sonora, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas without power on Sunday, Feb. 14, due to the freezing weather, with some places even seeing snowfall.

With the Texas pipeline not currently delivering gas into the country, Mexico decided to implement rolling blackouts throughout parts of the nation, particularly at night, when the least amount of energy is used, in order to conserve power.

Cenace said on Tuesday, Feb. 16, that power outages would be staggered throughout Aguascalientes, Colima, State of Mexico (Edoméx) , Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Puebla, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas in the time period between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m, but unexpectedly affected areas of the country that were not scheduled for the outages, like Quintana Roo, Veracruz and Mexico City.

While only 12 states were anticipated to receive the power outages, the blackouts reportedly occurred in 29 states, over double the planned number, leaving only three of Mexico’s 32 states to completely maintain power throughout the day, causing billions of pesos of damage to companies throughout the country. Already, sources say that an estimated 54 billion pesos has been lost nationwide due to the blackouts.

The blackouts were supposed to be scheduled in a staggered manner so that areas would not be without power for long periods of time, but with unplanned areas being affected, concerns have risen about the efficiency of the outlined energy-saving schematics, particularly since 3.2 million CFE users were left without power on Tuesday, or around 8 percent of the company’s clients.

Some states expressed worry that their hospitals would run out of energy, a large concern as coronavirus continues to surge throughout the country, leaving many lives at risk. In Nayarit, patients had to be transferred to another hospital to be hooked up to respirators that were no longer functioning without power. 

At the bare minimum, large portions of the country will be left unable to cook, see in the dark or even take a hot shower, a big problem during the winter months in a country that doesn’t commonly use central heating, especially with the north experiencing freezing temperatures.

Now, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has announced the country will be acquiring fuel oil from the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) to help bandaid the energy issue.

“The technicians of the CFE are already acting and attentive and work is being done,” said AMLO on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 17.  “This situation was already being anticipated, so it was decided a week ago to deliver Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) fuel oil to the CFE, and deliver it at a low price.”

López Obrador using Pemex fuel as an energy supply for the CFE should come as no surprise, considering his vocal commitment to state-owned companies, and his recent proposal to reform the CFE, which has been criticized as monopolistic in practice.

“Blackouts are going to be the daily bread for the remainder of AMLO’s six-year term,” said Fernando Herrera Ávila, a spokesperson for the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which opposes López Obrador’s own leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena).

Controversy has also arisen about Mexico’s lack of energy reserves, which are practically nonexistent as of now. In contrast, the United States has 65 days worth of energy reserves and most European countries have around 100 days of energy in reserve. 

In 2018, the administration preceding AMLO’s proposed various locations of energy reserves throughout the country, mainly in Veracruz, which could have increased Mexico’s capacity for energy storage to 45 billion cubic feet, or about five days worth of energy reserves, though the use of these sites never came to fruition. 

Following the blackouts, the CFE announced it would now be increasing its storage measures and would work to prevent price hikes, though the company has not yet announced a specific strategy to do so.

…Feb. 18, 2021

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