Four months before the presidential elections, the Secretary of Energy, Flavia Royón, instructed the state-owned company Energía Argentina (Enarsa) to assume "temporarily" the operation of the hydroelectric power plants of the Comahue basin, which includes the provinces of Neuquén and Río Negro, 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 90s.
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 those power plants, whose concession contracts expire in the second semester of the year.
Official sources indicated that the note instructs Enarsa to assume the operation "in view of the proximity of the expiration of the concessions and as from the date thereof, including, without limitation, the eventual transfer of the personnel and contracts related to such power plants".
These are the Alicurá (1,000 Mw) hydroelectric complexes, currently operated by AES Argentina; El Chocón (1,200 Mw) and Arroyito (120 Mw), operated by Enel Generación; Planicie Banderita (450 Mw), operated by Oroazul Energy, whose contracts expire on August 11; and Piedra del Águila (1,400 Mw), operated by Central Puerto, whose concession expires on December 29.
These dams are the first five of a total of 22 hydroelectric complexes whose concession expiration dates will begin to operate as from August, after 30 years of private management, and which since last year are part of a negotiation between the Nation and the provinces, particularly those of Neuquén and Río Negro for the future status of these exploitations.
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, considering that it is a "centralist measure, because the provinces are the owners of the natural resources" and, as such, they intend to "charge for the use of the water".
For its part, the government of Río Negro requested an urgent meeting with the Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, and with Secretary Royón. "The position of the province as owner of the resource shared with the other provinces is clear as to the need to approve all types of decisions involving the management of water from the multipurpose uses located in the Limay and Neuquén rivers, seeking to optimize uses such as flood control, human consumption, irrigation, industrial and electric power generation", expressed the government of Río Negro in a communiqué.
Within this framework, the government of Río Negro reiterated its request to advance in an understanding that provides for the concession of the power plants in the public sphere and shared between the Nation (as owner of the works) and the provinces (owners of the water).
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 located on the Limay and Neuquén rivers; contemplating water use regulations and environmental issues related to the resource.
Both Patagonian provinces included in their claim the application of the so-called Comahue Tariff which, as the main energy generators of the country, would allow them an electricity consumption at differential prices, which could mean a reduction of between 15% and 40%.
The possibility of the provinces having the management of the dams faces a major legal obstacle since the assets are registered under the ownership of the Nation.