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Long-standing problems bring risk of more blackouts in Yucatan

Aging transmission lines and declining natural gas production could spell more blackouts on the Peninsula this summer and into 2020

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Blackouts could become more common in Yucatan, experts say. Photo: File

Having already suffered prolonged power outages in March and April, the Yucatan Peninsula could suffer from Mexico’s scarce natural gas supply and insufficient power transmission infrastructure, according to experts.

The fast-growing Yucatan depends on two main sources for its electricity, Talanza Energy Consulting’s David Rosales told Natural Gas Intelligence.

One is local gas-fired power plants, which rely exclusively on natural gas produced by Pemex to operate, since the Peninsula is not yet connected to the Sistrangas national pipeline grid. The second source is the set of transmission lines that supply power from other regions of Mexico via the Tehuantepec isthmus.

This scenario presents a three-fold problem, according to Rosales and other local experts.

First, aging transmission lines that connect the peninsula with the rest of the country are already operating near capacity. Second, Pemex’s natural gas production has been in decline since 2009, and the company has yet to present a convincing plan for how to reverse that trend.

Third, and perhaps most crucially, natural gas infrastructure projects designed to alleviate the supply issues have faced repeated delays.

Moreover, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has suggested sabotage as the culprit of Yucatan’s most recent blackouts. The sugar-cane fires that disrupted transmission lines might have been set, he said.

For whatever reason, the risk of continued power outages is “very high,” said Rosales. He thinks the gas and power supply challenges will plague Yucatan not only this summer, but next summer as well.

“There is not sufficient generation capacity because there is no natural gas in the peninsula. If there is excess demand on the transmission line, the system overloads,” independent energy analyst Rosanety Barrios told NGI.

Essentially all of the peninsula’s locally produced electricity comes from five thermal power plants with a combined effective capacity of 1,754 MW, according to the government’s development plan.

Three of these plants, with a combined capacity of 1,261 MW, rely exclusively on natural gas, while the other two, with a combined capacity of 493 MW, can also burn costlier fuel oil.

Nera Economic Consulting’s Veronica Irastorza tweeted that the supply of gas to the peninsula “depends totally” on Pemex and that supply alternatives are urgently needed.

Pemex-produced gas arrives to the Peninsula via the 780-kilometer / 485-mile Energía Mayakan pipeline, which is majority-owned by French multinational utility Engie. Mayakan is flowing well below capacity because of Pemex’s declining wet gas production in southeastern Mexico, Rosales said.

The reconfiguration of the Cempoala compressor station in Veracruz state, as well as Engie’s planned expansion and interconnection to the Sistrangas of the Mayakan pipe, are both meant to alleviate the Yucatan’s gas supply problems.

But both projects depend on the interconnection to the Sistrangas of the long-awaited 2.6 Bcf/d Sur de Texas-Tuxpan offshore pipeline, which has been delayed multiple times.

The Texas-Tuxpan pipe, which will supply U.S.-produced gas to Mexico, is a joint venture between TransCanada Corp. and Infraestructura Energética Nova (IEnova), the local subsidiary of U.S.-based Sempra Energy.

Rosales said the outlook for domestic gas production in Mexico over the coming months is “very bad.”

Source: naturalgasintel.com

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