Main Power Plant Breaches Environmental LawsBy Cas Biekmann | Fri, 08/07/2020 - 09:10
The Tula thermoelectric power plant, located in the north of Mexico City, has violated environmental laws aiming to prevent dangerous pollution. Reuters assessed this based on non-public documents seen by the press agency.
According to not-yet-public documents from CFE, Tula’s owner and operator, the power plant broke the legal limit for sulfur content in the fuel oil used to generate thermoelectric energy. This sulfur content appeared to be around 3.9 percent, close to double the limit set by CRE for various industrialized areas. In 2019, the power plant emitted 9,487 tons of PM2.5, particle matters smaller than 2.5 microns that are considered to be dangerous or even deadly pollutants. This amount turns Tula into North America’s biggest PM2.5 polluter, surpassing the most-polluting power plant in the US by 30 percent.
Reuters mentioned that environmentalists suspected the plant to be breaking regulations but that they lacked proof to back up their suspicions. The press agency does note that it is unable to assess whether the plant still uses the same fuel oil with high sulfur content. Tula boasts five chimneys that send smoke out into the air at all times. It receives its fuel oil from PEMEX’s second-largest refinery, which is located right next to it.
Burning fuel oil with elevated sulfur content poses major health risks. It releases various pollutants into the air, which medical studies have linked to respiratory diseases and some forms of cancer. To counter this, special filters can be installed to capture contaminants. However, energy experts doubt that CFE was operating with sufficient filters in the power plant. Reuters cites Jonathan Dorn, Emissions Expert at Abt Associates, who called the sulfur levels “crazy.” The plant is furthermore thought to be a contributing factor to Mexico City’s high degree of pollution, which has stayed relatively high despite a decrease in traffic and manufacturing activity brought on by the pandemic.
In SENER’s outline for Mexico’s energy policy, the ministry stated it would continue to burn fuel oil for energy generation purposes, just as it has done during previous administrations. SENER mentioned it would take steps to counter the pollution caused by burning said fuel oil, although it did not specify what measures it has in mind. Head of CFE Manuel Bartlett did specify his plans to phase out fuel oil. The state production company will source its energy from natural gas and renewable resources. CFE is indeed tendering the construction of several combined cycle generation plants, which rely on natural gas. Bartlett stressed that the process will take some years to complete. Tula itself was meant to rely more on natural gas as well, but a pipeline project seeking to connect the power plant to the gas distribution network has been stalled since 2015.