In the middle of an election year, the national government made a decision that directly affects the southern provinces of the country, particularly Río Negro and Neuquén. In the last few hours, the Secretary of Energy, Flavia Royon, instructed the state-owned company Energía Argentina (Enarsa) to assume "temporarily" the operation of the hydroelectric power plants of the Comahue basin.
The maneuver of the Nation takes place in view of the imminent expiration of the concessions granted 30 years ago within the framework of the privatization process that took place in the 90's. This will take place on August 7, 2010. This will occur on August 7, only six days before the PASO. Hence the Government's rush to put the situation in order. The fact is that the provinces have been demanding for a long time to be part of the discussion and there is a lot of anger with this unilateral decision.
The disposition of the head of the energy portfolio was made through a note addressed to the president of Enarsa, Agustín Gerez, in which "he is instructed to adopt the necessary measures to be in conditions to temporarily assume the activity of electric energy generation" of these power plants, whose concession contracts expire in the second semester of the year.
After learning of the instruction received by Enarsa, the Governor of Neuquén, Omar Gutiérrez, rejected the decision of the National Government to leave the control of the hydroelectric dams of the Limay and Neuquén rivers exclusively in the hands of the Nation, and anticipated that he will appeal the measure, which he described as "unconstitutional".
"It is an outrageous thing to transfer the hydroelectric concessions to Enarsa", said the governor and described the measure as "centralist, because the provinces are owners of the natural resources" and as such they intend to "charge for the use of water". He added: "They are taking from us what is ours without consulting us. We intend to charge for the use of water, and they pay us 1 out of every 3 pesos of what they charge for energy".
In the same line, the President assured: "We are going to do everything we have to do, the Minister (of Energy and Natural Resources, Alejandro) Monteiro and the State Prosecutor's Office are working on this". And he underlined: "I do not want to judicialize politics, but we are forced by this unconstitutional measure". Gutiérrez recalled that days before Neuquén had already been affected by the Central Bank's measure that forces the provinces to acquire dollars at blue exchange rates to face their debts in foreign currency.
According to what the provincial deputy Mariano Mansilla confirmed to TN some weeks ago and ratified this Wednesday, he is working on the last details of two judicial actions, one declarative and the other challenging the decision of the national government. In addition, it is preparing an administrative claim against the resolution of the Energy Secretariat, which must be answered in the next few days. If it does not do so, illegal actions will be taken.
In fact, Mansilla called a press conference for this Thursday at the Legislature at 10 a.m. to inform about the legal and political actions to be taken in view of the decision of the National Secretariat of Energy to "unilaterally, unconsultedly and illegally grant the administration of the four dams whose concessions expire next August 7".
For its part, the government of Río Negro requested an urgent meeting with the Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, and with Secretary Royón. In addition, the provincial executive will request the creation of a tripartite company for the administration of the power plants.
"The position of Río Negro is firm, as owner of the resource shared with the other provinces as established in the National Constitution, regarding the need to be involved in this and all types of decisions that involve the management of the water of the Limay and Neuquén rivers," the Río Negro Energy Department told TN.
Since last year, the provinces have been discussing with the Nation different alternatives of schemes to be implemented for the administration, operation, maintenance and exploitation of the hydroelectric power plants. Both provinces demanded the application of the so-called Comahue Tariff which, as the main power generators in the country, would allow them to consume electricity at differential prices, which could mean a reduction of between 15% and 40%.
The hydroelectric dams are Villa El Chocón and Arroyito, operated by the Italian company Enel; Alicurá, operated by AES Argentina; Planicie Banderita, owned by Orazul Energy; and Piedra del Águila, operated by Central Puerto.