The morning mist dissolves on the hills surrounding Cuetzalan, a mountainous municipality in the state of Puebla, in southeastern Mexico. The crowing of the roosters accompanies the first rays of sun, which filter through the solar panel roof, surrounded by a garden of palm trees and yellow heliconias. “This solar roof is a dream come true because it allows us to produce our energy and respect the environment,” says Rufina Vila, as she points out the 16 solar panels of the Tazelotzin eco-hotel.
This 66-year-old woman, with her hair tied up in a long white braid and wearing a traditional embroidered shirt, is an indigenous leader of the Maseual people and also presides over a local cooperative made up of a hundred workers who, among other activities, manage the small hotel. This slow-paced path towards energy sovereignty sweetens years of battle between the Maseual and Totonac peoples, threatened by hydroelectric projects, open-pit mining and hydrocarbon extraction through the fracking either hydraulic fracturing.
On this path full of obstacles, community leaders insisted on producing energy locally and sustainably, a process in which they now have the support of the alternative energy cooperative Onergia, created in 2017 in Puebla by a small group of professionals. under 40 years of age with the aim of “collaborating with society towards the transition and energy sovereignty”.
I was tired of working just for profit. We wanted this technology to be available to low-income people
Sofia Pacheco, co-founder of Onergia
“Energy has gone from being a market product to a common good. We have begun to ask ourselves what it is, why, for whom and how we want it”, explains Sofía Pacheco, 29, an industrial engineer and co-founder of Onergia. “This is where our work with communities comes from: we ask them about their needs, we make technologies available to them, and we offer workshops so they can continue independently,” she adds. “Our values are assemblyism, respect for the dignity of work and the demasculinization of the electricity sector,” continues Juliana Gómez, 33, a colleague of Pacheco’s. “It is not easy, but we continue: we are the first Mexican alternative energy cooperative”, she emphasizes.
Power for the native peoples
Pacheco and another engineer, Orlando Huertas, came to Cuetzalan in 2017 as employees of a solar panel company. “I was tired of working just for profit. We wanted this technology to be available to low-income people (…) Everything changed when our boss sent us to Cuetzalan, where we participated in the assembly of 10,000 people, who were at the climax of their struggles. It had an incredible impact on me, ”he recalls.
At that time, the social movement had managed to stop the construction of a high voltage line of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). “We marched and camped for nine months in the place to be sure that the company would not return. During this time, the idea of producing our own energy arose”, explains Vila.
An expert report published a year ago concluded that 36.7% of homes in Mexico suffer from energy poverty.
Months later, Pacheco and Huertas resigned from their jobs to create Onergia and start their project in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, which has materialized in the implementation of solar panels like those of the small hotel managed by the Vila cooperative. “Making an installation that would be stable despite the winds and rains was a challenge,” admits Pacheco. The energy generated when there is sun serves to cover the needs of the eco-hotel and on cloudy days they have to rely on the power line. Bimonthly receipts have dropped from 7,000 Mexican pesos (350 euros) to 500 (25 euros).
In Cuetzalan, steep stone streets dotted with vermilion and white houses and food stalls lead to the cafe of Tosepan Titataniske, which means “United We Will Win” in the Nahuatl language, a cooperative that has been active for 45 years with more than 35,000 members. . “Thanks to the 22 panels installed on the roof, we now have electricity even in stormy seasons, when there are usually blackouts,” explains Rumberto Ramírez, the store’s maintenance manager.
In this city where blackouts are frequent, there are a total of 160 solar panels that also reach some private homes, which represents a real technical and training challenge for the inhabitants to make them work properly, admits Pacheco. And Onergia’s commitment to local communities also takes the form of electricity workshops and installation of panels for young people. Before the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, 27 people participated, including Saturnino Moreno, Benito Hernández and Ocotlán Macari, who already created their electricians cooperative, called Tonalsi, which means “little sun”. “I have always had a passion for electrical work. Sometimes our clients look at me strangely because I am a woman, but my colleagues always support me,” explains Macari, 24, as he hugs his nine-month-old daughter Sofía.
After these concrete projects beats another much more ambitious, that of reducing inequalities. An expert report published a year ago concluded that 36.7% of homes in Mexico suffer from energy poverty. In other words, more than 46.6 million Mexicans do not have full access to a quality supply, be it fuel products or electricity. “We have to forget that governments are going to solve the crisis. We must focus on community projects that are providing immediate alternatives and questioning the system, with resistance to megaprojects. It is a paradigm shift that comes from the indigenous peoples who have always taken care of common goods”, explains Carla Vázquez, from the Rosa Luxemburg Mexico Foundation, who has worked on a project to locate 700 alternative community renewable energy projects in rural areas. and urban areas of nine Latin American countries.
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