Climate changes Energy

Mexico turns to coal despite fossil fuel’s dwindling popularity as global leaders embrace renewables

Under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s leadership, Mexico is turning back the clock to coal-powered plants and conventional energy. The head of state has been vocal about his disregard for renewable energy as a replacement for coal. Recently, he stopped new clean energy projects and injected over $9 billion to construct a new oil refinery. Since Obrador ascended to power in 2018, he has mocked wind farms calling them “fans” that damages the landscape. In March this year, he backed a law that requires the national grid to utilize power from state-owned plants first before taking energy from renewable sources. This law pushes for crude oil and coal-powered generators, which was a major contributor to Mexico’s economy.

Last summer, the president directed his government to set aside funds to buy coal from local producers to relieve jobless coal miners who had become jobless after Obrador’s predecessor shut down coal mines in favor of cleaner energy. Workers in the coal plants are behind their president and say coal mining should go on. “We need this to continue. Coal is what we live from,” said Juan Manuel Briones, a coal miner who had worked in the mines for two decades before losing his livelihood when Mexico embraced green energy at the expense of fossil fuel.

Environments have aired their concern about Mexico not meeting its carbon reduction obligations according to the Paris Agreement. On the other hand, business experts warn that Mexican energy prices will go up since coal and gas cost twice as much as wind or solar energy.

Furthermore, critics say that Obrador’s decisions come from climate change denialism, nationalism, and nostalgia. He is acting on populist’s ego and Mexico’s proud history as a coal producer. When the president was growing up, Mexico’s economy relied on Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), a state-owned oil company. When former president Enrique Pena Nieto opened up Mexico’s energy market to private companies, Pemex lost its glory, and renewable energy’s low prices transformed the bidding process for energy. Obrador doesn’t like foreign-owned energy companies.

He says they are taking away the market share from Pemex and Federal Electricity Commission. Firing up coal plants will return the fossil fuel glory to Mexico, according to the country head. An energy expert at Inter-American Dialogue, Lisa Viscidi, deems the president’s policies as a way to “return their monopolies” by returning Mexico’s energy sector to the state’s hands. “All of these things have been sacrificed for the goal of energy sovereignty,” she said of Mexico’s plan to pollute the environment through more fossil fuel.

These changes have been met with a lot of resistance from renewable energy firms. The startups have sued the government, saying they are being sidelined. Obrador is unshaken and wants to introduce a constitutional change to address the coal problem. Recent power blackouts in Texas, United States, convinced Obrador that his plans were justified after renewable energy critics and politicians blamed renewables for the chaos. Energy mishap in the US interrupted supply of natural gas in Mexico being the largest supplier. The president backed his policies, saying the shortage in natural gas supply indicates the country should produce its energy.