Living Without Electricity in Baja California

Living Without Electricity in Baja California Vivir Sin Energía Eléctrica En Baj California



Living Without Electricity in Baja California


Baja California is considered one of the states with the most opportunities for economic prosperity in Mexico. There are ample employment opportunities in advanced technologies and it shares a border with the US state of California, one of the most prosperous in the United States. It is difficult to imagine that families live in the state of Baja California without electricity. However, according to the last Mexican census carried out by INEGI in 2020, approximately 26,000 people live in extreme energy poverty and without access to electricity. 1 To further understand this pernicious energy poverty challenge, the Institute of the Americas in collaboration with the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (El Colef) and Pronatura Noroeste, developed a study to analyze the causes and effects of the lack of access to electricity in Baja California with the goal of giving voice to the people who live without such a basic service across the state.

1 It should be noted that, for the purposes of this project, the criterion of considering only those localities that have a number equal to or greater than ten homes without electricity was established, in order to optimize the human and economic resources available for the project. If we consider all the towns in the state, there are approximately 9,600 homes without electricity.


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

The study included surveys and focus groups within select communities, mapping of households and identification of local and international stakeholders who could contribute to solving the problem of energy poverty. Focus groups were held in the town of Maneadero in the municipality of Ensenada; in Camalú, in the municipality of San Quintín; and in the eastern part of Tijuana. The objective was to engage citizens in a deeper conversation and to gain their opinions, feelings, as well as ideas and details on daily life without electricity.

Energy Poverty It is important to understand energy as more than a commodity. Rather, it is an omnipresent and vital element for human activities and modern life. This is particularly the case at home where electricity provides lighting and allows for entertainment, it ensures better hygiene and cleanliness, care of medicine, refrigeration and preservation of food, as well as cooking and providing a comfortable temperature for the prinicipal living area. Home goods and appliances such as light bulbs, lamps, refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, fans, heaters and air conditioners are conduits to leverage energy to satisfy human needs and ensure a modern lifestyle. Lack of access or the ability to use these goods and services directly affects one’s well-being and quality of life thereby creating energy poverty. Meaning of Electricity Survey participants and those in the Focus Groups expressed a clear desire for access to electricity. They cited the important quality of life that electricity can deliver to their households and families. Many equated access to electricity with a feeling of happiness and improving their daily lives. Many also noted the perception of improved socioeconomic status derived from access to electricity.


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

Access to electricity can also have a direct health impact, as our project identified. Citizens who suffer from illness and disease oftentimes require their medication to be refrigerated. Others with disabilities are unable to move around with ease, a situation that has been aggravated by the Covid 19 pandemic. People who live without electricity in their homes are dependent on their relatives and friends to carry out activities that they would normally do in their own homes.

The Value of Energy Services

A key objective of the project survey was to understand the perspectives of heads of households. Specifically, how they value or desire energy services and corresponding impacts on their daily lives. Answers are shown in Figure 1. In addition, each of these questions was followed by another open question for the respondents to express their assessment of these services in their own words.

Figure 1. Valuation of energy services



Washing machine













I would like it very much Yes I'd like to

It's all the same to me.

It does not worry me I don't care at all

Source: COLEF team

1. Refrigeration The results of the survey, underscored by comments from the participants in the focus groups indicate that the refrigerator is the most valued equipment since it is an appliance that provides a fundamental service for the well-being and quality of life of people, such as food preservation. Without a refrigerator, people are forced to buy the food they need on a daily


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

basis, resulting in higher spending on food. This situation leads to alternative adaptive practices, such as buying non-perishable food and consuming a significant amount of canned food. Others ask neighbors or family members who have a refrigerator to store their food. In some cases, ice is purchased and food kept in coolers.

2. Lighting

Lighting as well as hygiene and cleaning services through the use of a washing machine were the second most valued. The respondents expressed that they have to use candles to light their homes at night and early in the morning. This reliance makes them feel insecure due to the danger of fire from the candles. Some residents use other lighting alternatives, such as flashlights, the light emitted by a charged cell phone and, in some cases, solar lights that use small photovoltaic panels. Frequently, chores at night go unfinished due to the lack of light.

Education is oftentimes jeopardized. Children face difficulties with completing homework or watching lessons broadcast on television. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the digital divide that exists in Baja California, and in Mexico in general. Clearly, lack of electricity negatively impacts education of children and young adults. 3. Telecommunication Another valued service is information, communication and entertainment through the Internet and television. Many residents are forced to overcome the lack of electricity in part


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

by accessing the Internet through cell phones. Unfortunately, this can have a negative economic consequence as they must periodically buy higher priced prepaid cards. Some people must recharge their cell phones at the homes of friends and family or clandestinely log-on using their neighbors' Internet signal. However, many residents pointed to a unique solution and apparently common practice: consensual shared Internet usage. Neighbors agree to payment terms and then employ a repeater antenna that amplifies the original signal. Television, however, appeared to hold little value for citizens. Most of the comments to the open questions on this point referred to the importance of alternative activities to watching television, such as caring for plants or animals, housework and, in the case of children, doing homework or playing with their neighbors. 4. Hygiene and Cleanliness Half of the residents surveyed in our project own washing machines, but are unable to use the appliance for lack of electricity. Most are forced to do their laundry by hand, and those who can afford the expense use laundromats. In some cases, people turn to neighbors or relatives who own washing machines. This provokes a difficult dependency for such a fundamental and necessary service for a family´s well-being and quality of life. An iron was viewed by respondents as the least valued. For those that indicated a desire to have an iron, most intended to use it for their children's uniforms, an activity that has been unnecessary during the Covid 19 pandemic and school closures. Some homes do have an iron, but, in the absence of electricity, they must heat it on a gas stove to be able to use it. Most comments and responses pointed to the limited need to own an iron. Health and Quality of Life Access to electricity can also have a direct health impact, as our project identified. Citizens who suffer from illness and disease oftentimes require their medication to be refrigerated. Others with disabilities are unable to move around with ease, a situation that has been aggravated by the Covid 19 pandemic. People who live without electricity in their homes are dependent on their relatives and friends to carry out activities that they would normally do in their own homes.

We found that about 40 percent of the houses that do not have electricity in Baja California are in an irregular situation.

An important theme that also came up in the conversation with the focus groups is how most of the participants had always lived with electricity until they bought the land or homes


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

they live in today. They feel as if they live in remote places like in the mountains, away from energy services. In this regard, it is worth noting that, in the case of the town of Camalú, practically all the participants migrated from the south of Mexico, mainly from the state of Oaxaca and to a lesser extent from Tabasco, Chiapas and Guerrero. They moved to Baja California seeking to improve their quality of life but, paradoxically, they feel that they have not done so as they did have electricity in their places of birth, but not in their new homes.

Living in Lands Without Title Deeds

Irregularity in this case is related to the presence of an informal land market that borders on illegality. This is because sellers take advantage of people who want to own a property by deceiving them and promising them basic infrastructure on their land which never arrives.

It is for this reason that the national utility company, Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) cannot provide this basic service. We even witnessed that, in many cases, the CFE distribution network passes through the same street where the homes without electricity are located and, for what is stated here, they cannot connect electricity. The issue is that sellers of the land resorted to corrupt practices in the sense that they did not complete the necessary procedures to change the of property ownership. The land was communal property known as “ejido” in Mexico and, when it was subdivided for sale, the process of changing it from communal property to private property was not carried out, in such a way that the people who bought these lands were left in an irregular situation. In this regard, opinions such as the following were expressed: “Because of the scam, because they sold us with lies, at least in my case they sold me this place in cash, they told me that the promise was that in two months there would be electricity and water, I've already been here 6-7 years and I don't have electricity and I don't have water…”


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

“…one buys with confidence believing that the person who is selling to you is someone like that (good person), and also because of one's need to buy, one doesn´t really investigate, but it is the seller's trick …” “…here they were plots (social property), it seems that the original seller received the land and gave it to several people to sell it, she and I bought the land from one person, she from another, that is, they were different sellers, but, I mean, they don't tell people it's the seller's obligation to give you the lot with water and electricity, yes?” “…for example, she buys a piece of land and they are not going to give her a settlement letter, but she pays the balance for electricity and water, but, a buyer should never pay for those services if they are buying in an area which is called housing development …” “…the detail with us is that the neighborhood is irregular, the neighborhood is ejido, so no matter where someone looks , they cannot give us any service …” Many people living in irregular properties have constantly negotiated with the authorities at different levels to find a solution to this problem, however they have not been attended to, as evidenced in the following comments: “…The truth is that we are already tired, it is always the same, only when there are elections do the candidates come here promising that they will fix the problem. But as soon as they come to power, they forget what they promised…” “ We got into "Ramo 33" (Ramo 33 is a federal program that provides state and municipal governments financing for implementing social projects) two years ago. Unfortunately, we did not achieve anything…."

“…because it´s ejido they don´t help us…”

From the people´s comments we realized that various means have been sought to obtain property deeds and access to electricity without success.


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

Community Self-Management

Implementation of community self-management processes can be a useful tool to address the problem of energy poverty in Baja California. This concept sets forth a vision for actions to originate from within the communities through participatory and democratic processes, with the participation of outside experts that provide knowledge, including financing, to achieve the objectives and goals. Through community self-management, a crucial element to consider in Baja California is the organizational capacity of the neighbors affected by the lack of electricity. We found that there are adequate conditions for neighborhood organization since they share a common interest, which is to have electricity . Further, a community’s organizational capacity is supported by citizens’ sense of belonging to the place where they live since they see it as where their families can prosper economically and socially. This situation, as well as the apparent weariness from so many after years of waiting for access to electricity, makes the neighbors more willing to collaborate as a team, as expressed by the following comments: “…there is a well -organized team here, we have very astute neighbors who are vigilant of the tricks that the vendors make with the water (improper charges) and have worked to file the papers that are needed to get electricity (attempts to solve th e problem)…”


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

“… there is indeed greater cohesion in the neighborhood, more union, since the myth of the selling messiah is collapsing (the seller of the land who has not solved the problem but who makes some people believe that thanks to him they have wate r)…” “…some of our relatives bought land here, the people I love are here…the lack of electricity caused many people to leave the neighborhood...” Although, there is a willingness to cooperate and work collaboratively for the community, more work is required to build and strengthen capacities, to establish strategies for dialogue and democratic participation, and coordinate the efforts of the communities.

Energy Access and Energy Transition Baja California Communities also seem to share a desire to use clean distributed generation technologies such as solar thermal and photovoltaics in order to electrify their homes. Access to electricity in homes can be linked to a transition to renewable energies. Electricity generation is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases, a key element of global warming. In the case of Mexico, about 80 percent of electricity is generated with fossil fuels, so that any economic and social development strategy must inevitably incorporate this environmental dimension.


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

From our project, we learned that many households without electricity already use photovoltaic technology, but in a limited way. Basically, homes use solar bulbs, or small photovoltaic panels to light a few bulbs in the house for a period of short time. However, there is a lack of knowledge of the potential of solar technology to supply the more robust quantities of electricity that homes require. Many respondents perceive that a large number of photovoltaic panels are required for all the electronics and appliances required in their homes, an option that they cannot afford. It is precisely for this reason that when they talk about electricity, they think almost exclusively of the state power utility CFE, while they see photovoltaic energy as a temporary option. Given this reality, a key question at the core of this project was: Is it possible to link the energy transition to a strategy that aims to achieve universal access to electricity in Baja California? In other words, can the distributed generation of renewable electricity end extreme energy poverty in Baja California? To answer these questions, we organized a virtual workshop with stakeholders in which members of the affected communities, representatives of indigenous peoples, academics and officials from all levels of government participated in order to provide solutions to the problem of energy poverty in the state. The overwhelming recommendation was to use clean energy such as solar with batteries given that costs have been on the decline in the last few years. The solution of using renewable energy equipment would help eliminate energy poverty without negatively affecting the environment. Conclusion The study revealed the daily challenges faced by families living without electricity in Baja California. The negative impacts on the education of children, people with disabilities, and the safety of communities were quite evident. We found that the cause of energy poverty is not only economic or technical, since it has a lot to do with the irregularity of the land and the construction of housing and infrastructure that makes it difficult for these families to interconnect. Create an implementation group at the state level that includes government agencies, local and international NGOs, and of course, members of the communities so that, with a self- management approach, community renewable distributed generation projects can be developed to serve the population ’s needs. Work with the proper government agencies and authorities to pursue the legalization of housing titles as soon as possible. To confront the problem we propose the following:


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

Support the construction of homes with solid and energy efficient structures, which would promote the technical and economic optimization of renewable distributed generation projects. Include a component of training and job creation in communities that suffer from energy poverty as they electrify and remodel homes. Energy poverty in Baja California does not have to be permanent. There are clean technologies that can be easily incorporated into homes. However, the joint work of communities, federal and local government agencies, and NGOs is needed to support the legalization of land, create programs to condition homes, and install modern equipment that provides them clean electricity. Then, complete energy inclusion in the state of Baja California can be a reality. References García, Rigoberto (2022). ¿Qué es ser pobre en energía? En Rigoberto García (Coordinador). Pobreza energética. Visiones de América Latina. Tijuana. El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (En Prensa). García, Rigoberto, Graizbord, Boris, 2016. Privation of energy services in Mexican households: An alternative measure of energy poverty. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 18, 36 – 49. Inegi [Instituto nacional de Estadística y Geografía] (2021). Censo de Población y Vivienda 2020. Aguascalientes, Mexico.


Living Without Electricity in Baja California


El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) is a Research Center founded in 1982. COLEF´s mission that can be broken down into three goals: To study and divulge the signi cance of regional issues occurring in the US-Mexico border, to train students and sta to excel as professionals and researchers, and to maintain close links with civil society and government to contribute to the develop- ment of the region and the country. COLEF’s headquarters are located in Tijuana and has branches in Monterrey, Ciudad Juarez,

Mexicali, Nogales, Piedras Negras, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros. There is also an outreach and extension o ce, Casa Colef, in Mexico City. COLEF is a member of the network of the Public Centers of Research of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACyT).

Rigoberto García Ochoa Research professor. El Colegio de la Frontera Norte Boris Graizbord Ed Research professor. El Colegio de México

Ana Karen Campa Madrid Master in Comprehensive Administration of Environment. El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

Maveth Patricia Romero Gamboa Pronatura Noroeste A.C. Master in Regional Development. El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

We are the environmental conservation organization with the longest trajectory and presence in Northwestern Mexico. With 30 years of uninterrupted work, we monitor and conserve the ora, fauna, and priority ecosystems of this privileged area of the planet. We work in the ecoregions of the Baja California peninsula, Sonora, Sinaloa and Nayarit, the western slopes of Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco and Colima, the Gulf of California and its islands, and Mexico's exclusive economic zone in the Paci c Ocean, corresponding to the aforemen-

tioned coastal states.

Geovanni Cordero Geographic Information Systems Coordinator Lili Esparza Geographic Information Systems Technician


Living Without Electricity in Baja California

Institute of the Americas

The Institute of the Americas is a non-partisan, independent nonprof- it organization whose mission is to be a catalyst for promoting economic development and integration, emphasizing the role of the private sector, as a means to improve the economic and social well-being of the people of the Americas.

Founded in 1981 and co located on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, the Institute of the Americas was established to

encourage economic and social reforms across the Americas, enhancing private sector collabo- ration and strengthening political and economic relations between Latin America, the Caribbe- an, the United States and Canada.

Cecilia Aguillon Director, Energy Transition Initiative Institute of the Americas


www. iamer icas.or g 1 0 1 1 1 N T o r r e y P i n e s R d , L a J o l l a , C A 9 2 0 3 7

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