Rio Grande Electric Cooperative in Texas is helping keep the lights on in two locations in Mexico. It’s ready and willing to serve a third, but red tape and paperwork hassles have thwarted bringing electricity to people living without power within eyesight of the United States.
Like Arizona’s Trico Electric Cooperative, Brackettville, Texas-based Rio Grande Electric counts La Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) as a member. Lines run over the Rio Grande River in two spots.
“The wire that crosses the international boundary actually belongs to CFE. They bring it across to us, and we connect it on our side,” says Rio Grande CEO Dan Laws.
Lines have been strung across the river since 1973, initially as private agreements. CFE later took over managing the delivery points.
One location is near Santa Elena Canyon, Texas, in Big Bend National Park; the other is near Ruidosa-Candelaria, Texas. All metering points serve ranching communities, and CFE is on a small-commercial rate.
At one time there were two other line crossings, but those have been discontinued.
Meanwhile, another place in Mexico has no regular electric service, and that’s a story unto itself. Boquillas del Carmen is a small community right across the river from Rio Grande Village, which is part of Big Bend National Park.
“People on the American side of the river get in a boat, get taken across, and they ride donkeys up to the village, which does not have electricity except for solar panels on houses,” Laws says. “They eat a meal and see how people really live without electricity and without running water.”
The co-op would like nothing more than to electrify Boquillas.
“Rio Grande had been requested to serve,” Laws says.
That was in 1973, when he says the co-op built a line right up to the river. Lines were also constructed on the Mexican side.
“And then some environmentalist groups got involved and pushed back,” Laws says. “Their fear was that a line crossing the river at Boquillas Canyon would cause bird strikes, peregrine falcons in particular.”
Laws says that over the years, different groups have contacted him to try to restart the effort to bring service to Boquillas.
“I have also been contacted by the governor’s office in Coahuila to see if we could get the process started again,” he says. “I sent them to the Department of Energy to make their initial inquiry. I never heard back.”
So Boquillas makes do without electricity, Laws says.
“It’s a shame.”