Despite Rising Costs, Access to Energy Remains Unsafe and Unreliable for Caesar and His Family
On a Friday night four months ago, Caesar smelled gas in his building—a low-income housing unit called Alianza Popular Revolucionaria, in Coyoacán, Mexico City. When neighbors complained to the power company, they were told there was no problem. The onus was on residents to pay for a hotel if they felt their apartments were unsafe. For months, residents complained. Finally, there was an explosion.
“There were many wounded,” Caesar recalls, “including children.” He says that it took the explosion for the power company to recognize their case. Still, none of the residents have been reimbursed for the property damage or impacts to their health. A 29-year old engineer living with his parents, Caesar says that his mother suffers acute trauma brought on by the explosion, as well as respiratory issues that have not yet been addressed.
Caesar lives at home in order to save money. He works eight hours a day for Grupo Carso, a global conglomerate based in Ampliacion Granada, about 25 kilometers from Caesar’s apartment in Coyoacán. He works seven days a week, and his commute can take from an hour and fifteen minutes to nearly two hours, depending on the traffic. He earns US $481.60 per month after taxes, which he contributes to his family’s rent and uses for his personal living expenses. His father earns a pension as a retired administrative head for the Dentistry Department of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His mother is employed on UNAM’s administrative staff. Together, they earn a combined monthly salary of about $1,873.
As services have become more expensive in Mexico City, Caesar explains that access and quality have become a challenge. This is particularly true for his family’s access to electricity. He says his family typically experiences power outages three times a month—often lasting several days. “We also have problems of voltage variation,” Caesar explains. “My dad once complained with the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) because were being charged high consumption of electricity. The Commission said it was a voltage problem perhaps from a new home appliance. We had a new blender, but it was absurd— so what we did was we stopped using it.”
Caesar says that his dad then went to the Federal Consumer Protection Agency (PROFECO), but with no luck. “If we use new appliances the voltage increases, with the cost of electricity, but the light is then gone for several hours. Still, the CFE continues to charge us the same.” Despite these serious issues of quality, power costs have increased substantially. “Five years ago, we paid less than $5.35 per month. The cost has increased by 50 percent.” Despite this, Caesar says the infrastructure has not
improved, and that residents are responsible for changing the electrical installations themselves.
As the 2013 Energy Reform Act set Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, PEMEX, on a fast track to expand pipeline coverage by 90 percent, adding between 13,000 and 15,000 miles of gas pipelines, cities like Mexico City will be challenged to prioritize the safety and needs of their underserved residents above corporate interests. To Caesar, the explosion was a “problem of neglect.” Preventative maintenance, he says, must be the responsibility of landlords and gas companies, and is the first of many necessary steps to improving household energy access and keeping residents safe.