Social Impact Should Be the Earliest PriorityBy Cas Biekmann | Wed, 10/28/2020 - 12:22
Q: How is the firm involved in Mexico’s energy sector?
A: We are involved with several wind projects that are under development in Yucatan. We are also working with two solar parks in Aguascalientes, one of which is under construction and the other is in the O&M stage. In Zacatecas, the firm is consulting on one wind and one solar plant, and in Taumaulipas, it is involved with one wind project, where we have been working on the farm’s social management plan. Finally, we are working at four solar parks located in Sonora.
One example of the firm’s success is a solar farm located in Puerto Libertad, Sonora. We provided a community-relationship strategy that relied on a local and mixed multiparty commission. Through this strategy, the social impact approach was revitalized and intensified. Even during the pandemic, virtual meetings have been taking place and working rather well. We work on many more classified projects that generate best practices. In sum, SER Consultores has supported about 6GW of projects on environmental & social matters.
Q: How does the company provide services regarding environmental responsibility?
A: Environmental policy is a well-regulated area with clear provisions. Here, we work in most areas, from the environmental pre-feasibility study, to due-diligence studies for acquisitions, to environmental impact studies, studies regarding flora and fauna and its implementation, training regarding how to interact with the environment and preserving the local fauna and flora, and environmental surveillance during construction and O&M phase, among other themes. We administer these services long before the projects are started, and we oversee these themes during the construction and O&M phases as well.
Q: How can companies avoid problems regarding community engagement?
A: The first step is to take good care of community engagement before the project gets started. Taking action is the key point for any project. Regarding indigenous communities, project developers through their consultants need to do exhaustive field work as part of their basic approach. Another basic step is to map territorial elements that affect these communities to avoid underestimating the impact the project might have. If you have done exhaustive field work, mapped the territorial elements and identified those that might be impacted, your approach to this matter contained in SIA will be much more solid in order to develop the project. Project development should start by averting potential future issues, getting all requisite permits in order and defining best practices.
Q: What main issues are energy sector clients raising?
A: From a regulatory point of view, the current period is quite intense. We have not seen any actual regulatory changes from the government. The constitutional legislation and regulation remain the same. Nonetheless, the administration has taken steps that are concerning for the energy industry. As a result, the private energy sector is recalibrating its position. Companies that are now finishing their energy projects are the most affected, but those in the construction phase have also been affected. Those with greenfield projects starting from scratch are waiting to see how the new rules for the sector will play out. Once clarity has been established, they will decide how to move forward.
One change that is probably bound to come is the indigenous consultation law. Once this is ratified, it will apply to every sector as Convention 169 OIT does. Currently, there are only some administrative and sectorial directorates in this area. This leaves a regulatory void that the government will need to fill in eventually.
If regulatory certainty can be established in the sector, then everyone will benefit: government, communities and companies. Other elements must be considered so that the debate is held based on a technical exchange on environmental & social matters, to give greater certainty. All parties need to be involved in this debate: the federal government, state governments, private companies and also the academy. Under this basis, demands regarding contributions from the private sector can be established. This is a major, outstanding request that could help the entire sector plan for next projects.
Q: How is SER Consultores helping its clients to adapt their plans to new and demanding circumstances?
A: For projects under construction or about to enter the O&M stage, we help them to redefine their analysis regarding the needs of the communities surrounding their projects. Some places have been hit hard by the pandemic, meaning that their needs have changed and they now require direct aid. We have strengthened communication and community engagement. Based on this, we have redefined strategies. In other cases, we have helped companies to take additional measures because they recognized the complex situation they were in and wanted to have an outcome that strengthened the relationship with their neighbors.
Q: What goals does SER Consultores want to achieve within one year?
A: The stabilization of the sector and better clarity of the rules regarding indigenous consultation and community engagement would be at the top of our wish list. We would like to support projects from the greenfield stage to operation and maintenance, nurturing them along the way on social and environmental issues. We also want to be part of an institutional approach regarding the multilateral technical debate, including the public and private sectors and with the support of academics and consultants to generate best practices in the sector.
SER Consultores is a consultancy with broad experience in social and environmental impact assessments in Mexico. Having participated in over 5.99 GW of projects in the country, the company pursues sustainability in every project it is assigned to.