Mexican tourism body aims to spark state-backed solar blitz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico is crafting a plan to promote state-backed solar power generation that could spur well over $1 billion in investment, benefit local communities and help the government meet environmental targets, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Rogelio Jimenez Pons, director general of the National Fund for Tourism Promotion (Fonatur), said the scheme aims to build on Fonatur’s planned use of solar power for the so-called Mayan Train rail project linking up towns in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Government officials are still reviewing the plans, but if Fonatur gets the go-ahead, it could begin work on four solar farms this year, including one at the airport of the popular Caribbean tourist resort of Cancun, Jimenez Pons said.

A solar push could lift the renewable energy credentials of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whose support for fossil fuels has drawn criticism and set him at odds with the new U.S. government, which is committed to promoting green power sources.

The scheme would run through the state power utility, the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE), and draw the bulk of its funding from state development banks, Jimenez Pons said. Profits would be plowed back into the local communities, he added.

“It’s win-win,” he told Reuters. “I believe this project could kick off a series of actions. Not just in Fonatur, but in other state agencies; the transport ministry could itself do it using this model ... in all of Mexico’s airports.”

Across government, the scheme had potential to add thousands of megawatts (MW) of solar capacity, he noted.

Still, Jimenez Pons said it would be “wonderful” - albeit unlikely - if Fonatur could achieve 1,000 MW before the administration ends in late 2024.

Dedicated to reinforcing state control over the energy market, Lopez Obrador has shaped policy for the benefit of national oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the CFE, which is a heavy consumer of fuel produced by Pemex.

The government argues the state behemoths generate more reliable energy supplies than renewable sources, which has caused major disagreements with independent providers.

To ensure supply is not intermittent, Fonatur’s solar plan aims to use batteries to help store energy.

With that additional outlay, the cost per MW installed would be some $1.8 million, meaning the scheme could generate investment of up to $1.8 billion or more, Jimenez Pons said.

Fonatur, which would be responsible for finding 20% of the funding, stressed the plan was a collaborative effort across government. Even if Fonatur did secure private funding, everything would be under state control, he explained.

If the government gives the go-ahead, construction of the solar farm for Cancun airport will begin in November, and could be completed in six months or less, Jimenez Pons said.

The airports of Campeche, Chetumal and Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula are also potential candidates, he added.

Solar farms near the Pacific beach resort of Los Cabos on the Baja California Peninsula, and the Caribbean getaways of Tulum and Cozumel have also been earmarked for this year.

Reporting by Dave Graham and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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