The dilemma about what to do with the coal from Río Turbio is reactivated

Although one of the postulates of the recent global agreement against climate change signed in Scotland commits to marginalizing coal as a primary source of energy, Argentina is determined to strengthen the Río Turbio complex, including the completion of a controversial plant to generate electricity from Santa Cruz, which has already cost the treasury more than US $ 1.6 billion, but is still inactive. YCRT, the state company that Aníbal Fernández commanded until his inauguration as Minister of Security, received in 2021 a significant budget reinforcement to strengthen its semi-idle structure which, if awakened, could perhaps drive millions of dollars in exports.

YCRT is supported by contributions from the National Treasury. The budget credit for this year rose from 9,346 million pesos to 14,213 million, including in those transfers what is necessary to carry out investments. The heartbreaking dilemma is whether to abandon a complex that was extremely costly for the State or to assume the waste of past resources and bet on transforming it into a new option, potentially generating foreign exchange.

The government of Mauricio Macri couldn’t figure out what to do with the venture nestled in that Patagonian province. His administration had staunch detractors from the Río Turbio Carboniferous Reservoir – currently in charge of Germán Arribas, formerly responsible for finances – and also passionate defenders, convinced that its value would allow the world to sell quality coal. That is, suck foreign currency.

In fact, in 2019 two ships of almost 25 thousand tons each were dispatched to Brazil and another 16 thousand had been enlisted, until operational difficulties due to a measure of force truncated the sequence. The high level of conflict in the public company it is one of the expressions of the management problems that today transform Río Turbio into a sleepy giant.

The train is the best outlet to the sea for the production of the Río Turbio Carboniferous Deposits.

Since 2002, its staff rose from 700 employees to 2,600. This allowed the completion of some delayed works, such as the storage shed and an access portal to the thermousine, thus oxygenating the life of a mine with recurrent stages of paralysis. But this did not guarantee product availability. Less to export.

Río Turbio is a multi-legged complex. The central one is the coal mine. It also has two power plants powered by it: one of 21 megawatts, in operation; the largest, unfinished. Finally, a train that can travel 240 kilometers to Puerto Punta Loyola or Río Gallegos, connecting with the Atlantic. Everything almost frozen.

There is no doubt that it is a highly polluting product. But the coal is still a key input for iron and steel production and more than a third of the world’s electricity matrix depends on it, a percentage that rises to 70% if the Asian matrix is ​​considered. In fact, the recent revival of China’s economy after the toughest stage of the pandemic, caused that country to demand so much product that its price rose dramatically.

For local specialists, this reality opens an eventual window for Argentina to get dollars selling coal. For now a wish of the defenders of this hydrocarbon cursed by the caretakers of the planet.

Equally complicated was the decision of what to do with the second plant, 240 megabytes, whose advanced construction by the bankrupt Spanish firm Isolux Corsam not only aborted but also gave rise to judicial investigations. Some time ago the Sigen had already stated that disbursements doubled the real value of a power plant, estimating that an additional 230 million were required to complete it.

The administration of Alberto Fernández decided to finish the central. Despite doubts about how necessary a plant could be to add electricity to the national interconnected system from a very polluting and distant source. Not to mention if you are faced with the promise of developing a greener matrix.

The energy transition is full of contradictions precisely because of the coexistence of fossil fuels, the main generators of gases that produce the greenhouse effect, and renewable sources. In Argentina the possibility of having more wind or solar farms is directly conditioned by the existence of new high voltage lines that allow to transport that electricity. If they are not built, it is not worth increasing the green supply. And for that you need a lot of dollars.

At the brand new Glasgow summit, the country also made a commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. But Argentina will by no means stop supporting gas and electricity production, primarily generated by thermal sources. So far this year, energy subsidies have consumed 850 billion pesos and nominally that amount will continue to rise.

Part of these resources are to complete to the producers the price of the gas produced in Vaca Muerta and encourage them to invest. Part, to build a gas pipeline to drain it. There is a closed consensus among politicians of all stripes that Argentina should consolidate itself as a gas power, substitute imports and sell to the world during the transition.

To support the production of this hydrocarbon when the planet seems to be fighting it, there are at least two compelling arguments: the country contributes less than 1% of world pollution and, as a relatively less developed nation, it has the right to complete it; gas is the least polluting and for this reason it will be very precious in the transition from one matrix to another.

It is also proposed as a propitious scenario for ambitious green projects such as those to build hydrogen plants from wind energy to flourish. Several large foreign companies are evaluating these projects in Patagonia, but it is also in the exploration portfolio of other locals such as Techint.

But there is an innovative and seemingly effective green shortcut, raised by the Minister of Climate Change of Misiones, Patricio Lombardi. The official managed to capture the attention of oil companies at the Scottish climate summit with the proposal to receive funds to take care of the jungle forests of his province, an extraordinary green lung.

Transnational companies that operate in Argentine territory have already contacted him to jointly evaluate the magic formula: contribute money to take care of the Mesopotamian jungle in exchange for the right to remain contaminated with the exploitation of hydrocarbons.

That is Duality that generates the transition from a totally “gray” world energy matrix to a definitely “green” one.

For now, and until there are efficient systems to store them, the energies of renewable sources need yes or yes the support of the others, denominated “of base”. This also opens the door for the world to continue to sin with the use of hydrocarbon pollutants, including coal.

By Editor

Leave a Reply