Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) is set to start producing electricity in early December at its long delayed 642 MW Huexca combined-cycle thermal power plant in the central state of Morelos.

Huexa plant

The completed plant in Morelos state has been stalled because of local protests and objections over the natural gas-fired power plant and neighboring infrastructure.

On Monday, CFE workers began completing the final section of an aqueduct connecting to a nearby water treatment facility, which would provide treated wastewater to the power plant. Once this is done, CFE plans to begin pre-operative testing.

CFE has already invested 25 billion pesos, or about $1.25 billion, in the plant and adjoining infrastructure. The controversial project has been seen as a priority for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

As part of an initial policy aimed at participatory democracy that has since waned, López Obrador and his government held a referendum on the plant last February, with close to 60% of respondents voting for the project to go ahead.

There are now no legal impediments for the plant to start operations, said CFE’s Luis Bravo, communication coordinator.  

Mexico’s Guardia Nacional police force oversaw the resumption of work on the water line on Monday, according to CFE, with reports that protestors camped out in the area were removed.

The project is projected up to 80 MMcf/d of natural gas via a 171 kilometer (99.4 mile) pipeline operated by Spanish firms Elecnor and Enagás. The lateral connects to the national pipeline system Sistrangas and travels through neighboring states Puebla and Tlaxcala.

CFE’s Proyecto Integral Morelos (PIM) also includes a power transmission line.

Bravo said the project would be in “total harmony” with the environment and would use treated wastewater rather than water from the Cuautla River.

“Generating electricity from the power plant will permit energy prices to remain stable without increases, and will keep tariffs down in neighboring communities,” Bravo said.

López Obrador and CFE director general Manuel Bartlett Díaz have been adamant that CFE maintain its primacy in the power generation segment in Mexico by having priority over the private sector in power dispatch. 

Bartlett opposes the independent power producer (IPP) scheme that has been in place since 1994, which allows private sector generators to build and operate plants with CFE as the offtaker under long-term power purchase agreements.

Plants operated by CFE supplied about 54% of Mexico’s power generation in 2018, versus 30% for IPPs. Bartlett has said CFE must maintain at least a 54% share of the national total.

According to its 2019-2033 Prodesen power sector development plan, Mexico expects to add an estimated 29,294 MW of combined-cycle gas-fired power generation capacity over the next 15 years. The projects are set to be fueled principally by natural gas imports from the United States.