Gas-fired power plant wins voter approval in Mexico

February 25, 2019

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Voters in central Mexico have approved a stalled gas-fired power plant, one of seven projects that have been postponed, in many cases for years, by community opposition.

Roughly 60 percent of those voting in the weekend referendum called by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador voted in favor of the project in Huexca, southeast of Mexico City. The project cost $1.3 billion to build, and it costs the government $200 million per year even if it’s not running.

Feelings ran high; a few days before the referendum, anti-plant activist Samir Flores Soberanes was killed in front of his home by armed assailants.

Lopez Obrador said Monday he hopes the referendum will serve as a model for solving at least half a dozen other stalled natural gas projects.

“This is part of the whole mess of gas pipelines and plants that they left hanging,” Lopez Obrador said of previous administrations, which frequently contracted the projects out to private companies that get paid whether the plants are producing or not.

Local communities have been fighting for years against the Huexca project in Morelos state, just south of the capital. The project includes two thermoelectric plants, a gas pipeline to supply the plant with natural gas from Tlaxcala state and an aqueduct. The mostly indigenous communities around the Popocatepetl volcano have concerns about health, safety and the water supply.

In recent years Mexico tried to take advantage of lower gas prices to switch many plants that burned fuel oil to cleaner natural gas.

But previous administrations often didn’t consult local communities about the gas pipelines needed to supply the plants. Many communities opposed the projects and stalled them for years, costing the government at least $500 million per year, though even higher figures have been given.

The Huexca project, for example, is almost completely finished except for about 150 meters (yards) of pipeline.

While Lopez Obrador praised the referendum — similar to earlier ones he held on a partly built Mexico City airport, and his “Maya Train” project in the Yucatan peninsula — critics complain about a lack of consultation on his own pet projects.

Lopez Obrador said Monday he plans to issue a call for bids within about a month for the Maya Train, which would connect pre-Hispanic ruin sites with resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula.

But some of the communities along the proposed route have rejected the plan, others say they haven’t been consulted and environmental impact statements haven’t been submitted for much of the route.

Lopez Obrador would presumably start with the part of the route where train tracks already exist. For much of the rest of the route, tracks would have to be laid, often through environmentally sensitive nature reserves.

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