What’s Going On With The Electric Utility?

They seem to be going bonkers with rates
BY: CARRIE DUNCAN

We all think we know a lot about solar. We know we should get more of our household energy from solar, and certainly less from filthy icky coal. But show of hands, who knows where our electricity in Southern Baja comes from? Thought so. Clueless. No, you in the back row who shouted out that it comes from the switch on the wall, that answer doesn’t count. We’re thinking deep, here, and we’re going to learn about our prospects for beating the hated electric utility, CFE.

Baja is almost an island. The ferry comes over from the mainland of Mexico for much of what we consume, and the rest comes toddling town the peninsula, on the skinny two lane in big 18 wheelers.

solid.JPGWe are cut off from the grid the rest of Mexico is on. They’ve been talking about submerging a line under the Sea of Cortez, but that takes a big investment, and it seems CFE would rather just wring more money out of you and me then tie into the country’s electrical grid.

 We get almost all our energy from a diesel generator in La Paz. Yup, just like that Honda generator out in your garage. Well, this one is bigger, way bigger. The diesel comes over from the mainland in big tanker ships that lay off the coast just a little north of La Paz. They aren’t just screwing around out there, they are hooked up to a pipe that’s sucking their load of oil out of the ship and into the tank farm you can see from the road to Pichilingue. There are nearly a dozen tanks full of oil that are waiting their turn to be consumed churning out electricity for us.

The people in La Paz are not too happy with this arrangement, as the generator spews out a lot of filth, and they feel that given the population of Los Cabos compared to the population of La Paz, we who are far from the apparatus get more of the benefit of the smoking, belching diesel plant. Now that you know we are on generator, you can imagine how the cost of our electricity is tied so closely with the price of oil. (Hint: It’s going up fast here in Mexico, but the reasons for that are a whole other story).

So, why don’t we have more solar installations? They’re coming. Half a dozen solar “farms”, which are vast arrays of solar panels, are coming soon. Two already have their permits.

What, you think you’re going to run an extension cord to the solar farms? No. They will not be selling to you and me. They will need to sell to your old nemesis, good old CFE. CFE will take this juice and then pump it out to your house, just as soon as they slap their profit on it. We are all still the sucker at the end of the electric cord.

What can we do?

Well, we can put solar panels on our house, and defy CFE. If you buy a solar system that jumps through CFE’s narrow parameters, you can generate so much solar power during the day that there will be enough excess power you’ve banked, that you can draw from CFE when the sun goes down. Turning the meter back like that is the holy grail of home solar systems.

However, there’s a problem with that (there is always a problem with utilities). That generator system in La Paz only has capacity for 18 megawatts. If everyone, including, and especially including the big solar farms that are coming, feed into the La Paz plant, it can’t take it.

For that reason, CFE is changing the rules on us. They are saying they will stop buying back our sun power just as soon as the plant reaches a capacity of 18 megawatts. The corollary to that problem is, nobody knows when that will be. CFE isn’t even telling us how close we are now. They are just giving us a warning that the time is coming. Tick tock. Time to put your own solar system in place now and be grandfathered in.