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The CFE plant in Petacalco. The CFE plant in Petacalco.

CFE to replace coal with Pemex’s surplus fuel oil at Guerrero plant

It's a strategy to offload fuel oil that no one wants: energy expert

A government-owned power plant on the Pacific coast will soon generate electricity with fuel oil rather than coal even though the former contaminates more than the latter and generation costs will increase.

Electricity generation at the Plutarco Elías Calles plant in Petacalco, Guerrero, was suspended two weeks ago after the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) decided that it would no longer use imported coal to fire it.

The decision came after CFE chief Manuel Bartlett said on October 27 that the coal used at the plant, supplied by the Swiss company Glencore, is “imported and extremely expensive.”

The CFE now intends to fire the plant, located just south of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, with surplus fuel oil produced by the state oil company Pemex during the oil refining process.

While purchasing the fuel from its petroleum sector counterpart will no doubt be cheaper for the CFE than buying imported coal, the cost of generating electricity with the former will be considerably higher.

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According to Energy Regulatory Commission data, generating one megawatt-hour of electricity at CFE plants with coal costs 1,678 pesos. But generating the same quantity of power with fuel oil costs 2,627 pesos, 56.5% more.

Another downside to using fuel oil is that it is a lot more contaminating than coal, which is hardly a poster child for environmentalism itself.

Energy sector expert Rosanety Barrios told the newspaper Reforma that getting fuel oil from Pemex refineries to the Petacalco plant will also be difficult, explaining that there is no established route between the facilities.

“This is a strategy to offload large quantities of fuel oil that Pemex generates … but almost no one in the world uses fuel oil to generate electricity,” she added.

Elie Villeda, another energy sector expert, said the situation at the Petacalco plant is “very concerning,” noting that it has been operating since 1993, already has high generation costs and is harmful to the environment.

Now the costs are set to increase further and the impact on the environment will potentially be greater.

Villeda suggested that the government should be looking to generate electricity in the region with other more environmentally-friendly sources.

Fishermen in La Unión de Isidoro Montes de Oca, the municipality where the plant is located, told Reforma that they are concerned about the contamination the use of fuel oil will generate.   

Gilberto Barrera Reyes, representative of an umbrella group of fishing cooperatives, said that fuel oil leaked into the ocean from the Petacalco plant last Friday, causing a “pool” of contamination in a local bay.

“Coal and fuel oil are both contaminants but fuel oil contaminates a lot more,” he said.

Jesús Campos Albarrán, leader of the La Boba fishing cooperative, claimed that contamination from the power plant has caused dozens of cases of cancer over the past 27 years.

As of last year the plant produced 7% of Mexico’s electrical energy.

Source: Reforma (sp) 

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