Broken promises of the Canatlán Solar Garden, Durango

The promise of renewable energy was never fulfilled in Canatlán, Durango. Ejidatarios of this municipality feel cheated by a renewable energy megaproject that began to take shape in 2015 and included an investment of 120 million dollars to install a solar panel plant on more than 300 hectares of the Sierra de Durango.

A group of dissatisfied ejidatarios demand that the ecological damage that the installation of the plant involved be repaired (including the felling of 400 hectares of huizaches and mesquites), that the promised welfare works that they promised be completed, that the rent agreed be renegotiated and that the expired periods are paid.

The project began construction in February 2019 and was supposed to begin operating in 2021, but the plant has not been connected anywhere, as it does not have the necessary permits from the Energy Regulatory Commission.

Originally the idea was that the energy from the Solar Garden would be sold to companies outside the CFE market, however, this plan was truncated with the Electrical Reform of the López Obrador administration, which prohibited this operating scheme that led to an alternative energy market for companies in Mexico.

“They have not been able to connect to the transmission lines of the (Federal Electricity) Commission. According to the law, anyone can generate energy for self-consumption, but since the plan was to sell to the Federal Commission, they have not been given permission and there is the semi-abandoned park. They often say that they are going to start, but nothing more,” comments Gregorio Soto, one of the ejidatarios who demand that the Ibera Renovables company repair the damage caused in Canatlán.

In Canatlán there is no certainty who the Iberia Renovable company is. Initially its representatives were Spaniards, however, given the delay in the start of operations, some residents claim that they have seen people with oriental features who they presume are Chinese businessmen.

Broken promises

8 years ago, when the rumor of the arrival of the Solar Garden in Canatlán began, Gregorio Soto was one of the ejidatarios convinced of the benefits that the photovoltaic plant would bring. “They told us that the investment was going to arrive, the money, that we were going to invest in the future and I don’t know how much else,” he says in a telephone interview.

According to the Environmental Impact Statement, the installation of solar panels on 330 hectares of forest should contemplate the reforestation of 248 hectares in a neighboring ejido where the plant would be located, of course with endemic species. In the same space, Iberia Renovables would build 1,163 filter dams to capture rain. All within a period of less than six months from the start of construction of the plant.

A year after the deadline, ejidatarios from Canatlán went to inspect the promised mitigation works, but none had been carried out. Some days Iberia employees went to plant some species, but they did not even reach three hectares, they were informed.

“They were also supposed to make us an executive project to bring water from a nearby dam, among 17 other commitments, of which they only half fulfilled,” Gregorio remembers. “They were also going to put solar panels on the town’s water well, so as not to pay for that energy, but they did it halfway because what they generate is not enough and we still have to pay something for the pumps every month, that was left to them 50. Also “They were supposed to bring us a backhoe and a dump truck, but they brought some old trash cans that are broken and useless,” he says angrily.

Expired permits

According to Gregorio, the ejidatarios signed a lease contract with the company in January 2014 to rent to Iberia Renovables about 380 hectares where the solar farm would be established. From then on, the expression that was most heard in Canatlán was “ya mero, ya mero.”

The project was so important that the then governor of the state, Jorge Herrera, entrusted the project to his Secretary of Agriculture, Carlos Matuk. The first permit obtained by Iberia Renovables for the construction of the photovoltaic park was delivered by the Ministry of the Environment in 2015 and contemplated a validity of three years for the preparation and construction of the project, however, its construction did not begin until a year later of the permit’s expiration, in February 2019.

“The company began with the clearing and work in February 2019, but then a group of colleagues took on the task of reviewing the situation and we realized that they did not have the manifestation of the environmental impacts in force nor did they have other permits” , comments Gregorio.

When he along with other ejidatarios went to the delegation offices of the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) in Durango, their manager told them that in fact, the permit was not valid, but that a new one was in process, for which sent them to Mexico City to check directly.

After months of investigation and documentation, in August 2019, Gregorio, together with those ejidatarios, sent three complaints about the lack of permits, one to the then head of the Ministry of the Environment, Víctor Manuel Toledo, another to Profepa and one more to the Presidency’s citizen service offices.

In response to the complaints, the Profepa subdelegate in Durango assured that there was an extension of the validity of the Environmental Impact Statement, delivered in 2017, however, according to the documents of that extension, this refers to an extension of the land of operation, not the authorized deadlines for the construction of the plant.

“We feel that he took this extension out of his sleeve. It is incongruous that if the company had this expansion, there was no point in submitting a permit application in February 2019, as Profepa said,” comments Gregorio Soto.

In addition to complaints about the lack of permits, some ejidatarios from Canatlán ask that the rent that the ejido charges for the space be renegotiated, since according to the Environmental Impact Statement, the company expected to have profits close to 500 million pesos a year for the sale of energy and they would only deliver 2.7 million for the rent of the land to the ejidatarios.

Source: Pie de Pagina