A new law (the “Electricity Law”) opening the electric industry to private sector participation in generation, transmission, distribution and  power marketing activities became effective on August 12, 2014. The Electricity Law is part of a  set of new laws to implement the constitutional energy reform that became effective on December 21,  2013.

This legal update addresses the main features of the new Electricity Law.

Background

The Mexican electric industry was governed by a restrictive legal framework that limited private  sector participation and reserved most of the market to the state-owned Federal Electricity  Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad or the CFE). Since 1992, private sector investment has  been restricted to certain electric generation projects. Private companies could not take part in  the transmission and distribution sectors, and there was no power trading market.

The CFE was vertically integrated—combining the operation of the national grid, its control of the  wholesale generation market, a monopoly over transmission and distribution, and the supply to  almost all Mexican customers. This structure caused inherent difficulties in adequately and  efficiently supplying the electric energy demand in Mexico due, in part, to (i) CFE budgetary  constraints, (ii) opaque rules for interconnection to the national grid and (iii) severe  congestion, limiting transmission services. Because CFE’s budget was in effect controlled by the national treasury, the CFE long ago ceased to have the financial resources to properly maintain and expand the country’s electric  infrastructure.

Electric tariffs in Mexico were set by the Department of Finance (Secretaría de Hacienda) and not  by the Energy Regulatory Commission (Comisión Reguladora de Energía or the CRE), the industry  regulator, resulting in a tariff regime more responsive to political considerations than economic  realities. While the industrial and commercial sectors generally do not receive government  subsidies, agricultural and residential customers have received large subsidies. Despite these  subsidies, residential consumers in Mexico pay, on  average, higher tariffs than the same consumers  in the United States.

The New Electricity Law

The Electricity Law provides separately for generation, transmission, distribution and power  marketing activities.

From the regulatory side, three agencies will have primary responsibility for the sector. The  Department of Energy (Secretaría de Energía or the SENER) will have the policy function; the CRE  will have the regulatory function; and the CENACE, a new decentralized agency, will manage the  power grid and the wholesale electric market.

The generation and wholesale of electricity will take place under a regime of free enterprise and open competition. The CFE will be just one competitor in the new generation market.

While transmission and distribution facilities will remain under state ownership, the private  sector will be able to participate in the construction, operation and maintenance of such  facilities.

The operation of the National Electricity System, including the new wholesale electric market, will  be run by the CENACE. This agency will also regulate open and non-discriminatory access to the  transmission and distribution infrastructure.

The participants in the new wholesale electric market shall be the generators, power marketing  companies and large end users (or “qualified customers”). The power marketing companies may sell  power to end users (which may be qualified customers or regulated customers).

GENERATION SECTOR

  • A permit from the CRE is required for the construction, ownerhip and operation by any qualified  person of power plants with a generation capacity greater than or equal to 0.5 MW.
  • The permits shall also include the right to build, own and operate private interconnection lines  to deliver power output to the grid.
  • Generation companies whose output cannot meet their contractual customers’ energy demand will  have to purchase energy in order to meet such demand (i) in the wholesale electric market or (ii)  through power purchase and sale agreements (PPAs) with other generators or with power marketing  companies.
  • Generation companies can, in turn, sell their electricity (i) in the wholesale electric market  or (ii) by entering into PPAs with a power marketing company, with qualified customers or with  other generators.
  • Participation by generation companies in power marketing activities through affiliates is not  prohibited.
  • Generation companies that produce energy through renewable sources or clean technologies shall be eligible to receive tradable clean energy  certificates.

POWER MARKETING (SUPPLIERS)

  • To the extent a power marketing company sells power, it is called a supplier. Any qualified  person may obtain a permit from the CRE to supply power to qualified or regulated customers.
  • There are three different types of suppliers: (i) basic service suppliers, (ii) qualified service suppliers and (iii) last resource suppliers.
  • The basic supply is the supply of electric power under a regulated tariff regime. Regulated  customers are residential consumers and small businesses.
  • The qualified supply is provided pursuant to freely negotiated PPAs with large end users.
  • The last resource supply is provided to qualified customers in emergency cases under maximum  rates.
  • Power marketing companies may purchase electric energy (i) in the wholesale electric market or  (ii) through PPAs with generators or other power marketing companies. Purchase of power by power  marketing companies for resale to regulated customers must be carried out through competitive  bidding processes.
  • Suppliers (and qualified customers participating directly in the wholesale electric market) will  be required to acquire clean energy certificates.

QUALIFIED CUSTOMERS

  • The designation as a qualified customer is attached by registration with the CRE. The applicant  shall demonstrate that its existing demand exceeds certain thresholds (initially 3MW, with such  threshold being reduced to 1MW by the third anniversary of the effective date of the Electricity Law).
  • A qualified customer may purchase energy (i) in the wholesale electric market or (ii) under a  PPA with a generation company or a power marketing company.
  • There will be obligatory requirements for the acquisition of clean energy certificates by  qualified customers that purchase energy directly in the wholesale electricity market.

WHOLESALE ELECTRIC MARKET

  • It is a spot market operated by the CENACE where generators, suppliers and qualified customers  (acting directly and not through a power marketing company) are gathered for selling and buying  electricity at real-time system marginal costs.
  • Generation companies must operate their units in accordance with the dispatch orders of the  CENACE and coordinate their maintenance operations with the CENACE.
  • The CENACE will dispatch the system's power plants based on a merit order of ascending operating  costs (regardless of their contracted capacity under PPAs), under which the lowest operating cost  power plant satisfies system energy demand before the next lowest operating cost plant is  dispatched.
  • The CENACE can form partnerships with private parties in order to provide auxiliary services for  spot market operations.

TRANSMISSION AND DISTRIBUTION

  • The CFE through its affiliates (or other state- owned companies) will own the transmission and  distribution lines and will provide the service of transmission and distribution of electricity.  However, such entities will not directly buy or sell the electricity that flows through their  lines.
  • Tariffs for transmission and distribution services will be regulated by the CRE.
  • The SENER or the CFE’s affiliates may form partnerships or reach agreements (through public  bidding processes) with private entities in order to carry out the financing, installation, maintenance, management, operation and expansion of transmission and distribution  infrastructure.
  • Transmission and distribution grids will be under a “not unduly discriminatory open access”  regime managed by the CENACE.

CFE

  • The new CFE will operate through separate affiliated companies to take part in every sector of  the electricity industry.
  • The new CFE will have to compete on an equal footing with private parties in the generation and  marketing of electricity, but will remain the exclusive provider of transmission and distribution  services.

CLEAN ENERGY CERTIFICATES

  • The SENER will establish the criteria for issuing clean energy certificates to generators, which  will relate to energy generated by clean technologies (as defined in the Electricity Law).
  • The SENER will also regulate the obligation of the suppliers and qualified consumers that  participate in the spot market to acquire clean energy certificates, in proportion to energy  purchased or consumed.
  • The clean energy certificates shall be negotiable.

USE OF LAND

  • The transmission and distribution of electricity have a special priority over any other  activities that involve the use of the surface and subsurface of lands lying within the limits of  the respective projects, including hydrocabon- related activities. The affected lands are subject  to legal easements for the installation of transmission and distribution networks.
  • The Electricity Law contemplates the right of occupation and use of land owned by third parties  for the location, costruction and operation of site-specific generation projects (ie.,  hydroelectric plants) and transmission and distribution facilities. The consideration for the purchase, use or occupation of land, goods or rights that are necessary for conducting these activities shall initially be negotiated  directly between the interested parties. If they do not reach agreement, the industry participant  may request that (i) a district judge grant a legal easement or (ii) the Ministry of Agricultural,  Territorial and Urban Development conduct a mediation. Lack of agreement after the mediation may  also result in the imposition of a legal easement.

NATIONAL CONTENT

The SENER will establish a minimum national content in the new projects related to the financing,  construction, maintenance and operation of transmission and distribution facilities. This  requirement will be subject to availability in terms of comparable quality, cost and time or  performance.

Conclusion

The new Electricity Law establishes a legal framework for electricity-related activities in Mexico,  and has structurally changed the national electric industry.

Its fundamental principles are:

  • The generation and wholesale of electricity will take place under a regime of free enterprise  and open competition.
  • The CFE will no longer have a regulatory function and will not manage the electric power system.
  • Transmission and distribution networks will be managed by an independent agency under an open  access regime and regulated transmission and distribution tariffs.
  • Large end users of power will be free to choose their suppliers and the terms and conditions of  power supply.
  • The new law provides for mechanisms to encourage the use of clean energy sources.
  • The new law also provides for a mechanism to solve disputes concerning the required use of lands owned by third parties.

Much remains to be determined by regulations  to be proposed and implemented in regard to this new  law, but today there is a detailed picture of Mexico’s future electric power sector.