Freezing weather in the US state of Texas left almost five million people in northern Mexico without power early on Monday, as a shortage of natural gas disrupted electricity production.
Mexico’s government-owned utility, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), said on Monday its operations were interrupted as the winter storm in Texas froze natural gas pipelines.
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Mexico uses gas to generate about 60 percent of its power, compared with about 40 percent in the United States, and the country built pipelines to take advantage of cheap natural gas from its northern neighbour.
A deep freeze across Texas during the weekend took a toll on the energy industry in the largest US crude-producing state, shutting oil refineries and forcing restrictions from natural gas pipeline operators.
The Mexican utility said that by midday Monday, it had restored power to about 65 percent of the 4.8 million customers affected by the blackout, mainly in the northern border states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.
A smaller number of users were also affected in Durango and Zacatecas.
The CFE’s director of fuel purchasing, Miguel Reyes Hernandez, said the situation in Texas choked off imports of gas that Mexico uses to run many of its power plants.
“Electricity demand in the United States rose by a little over 20 percent in just four days,” Reyes Hernandez said.
“The increase was due precisely to the drop in temperatures, and obviously the use of heating in the United States meant an increase in natural gas demand on the one hand, and precisely because of the low temperatures, there was a decrease in renewable energy.”
He said US wind turbines “had their blades frozen … and there was freezing in many pipelines and even at wells.”
In Midland, the heart of the West Texas shale region, a record snowfall and temperatures that hit a 32-year low closed offices and businesses. Temperatures are expected to rise above freezing on Tuesday.
Earlier on Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador dismissed suggestions the outage could be linked to a “boycott” by private power generators upset at his plan to strengthen the CFE.
An energy nationalist, Lopez Obrador wants to bolster state control of the industry, arguing that previous governments skewed the power market in favour of the private sector.
“The technicians from the Federal Electricity Commission are already working on it,” he said during his morning news conference.
“It’s because of the bad weather,” he said, “but it won’t last long.”