A Lack of Three-Phase Electrical Transformers Paralyzes High-Demand Services in Cuba

Workers change a transformer in the province of Villa Clara. (Unión Eléctrica)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Mercedes García, Ciego de Ávila, 8 September 2022 — As he does very morning, Luis Andrés got on his bicycle to go to the private workshop where he fabricates bricks, blocks and tiles on the outskirts of Ciego de Ávila. But as soon as he approached and felt the silence, he knew that something wasn’t right: the electric transformer that supplies energy to the premises had broken, and he would soon know the dimension of his misfortune, because the Electric Union of Cuba (UNE) had no other of its kind to replace it.

“The oven we work with is electric and powered by a three-phase transformer that supplies 110 to 380 volts; a lightning strike damaged it and paralyzed production. We had several orders from people who are building a house and from other private businesses, but everything stopped,” Luis Andrés tells 14ymedio. He worked for years in the state sector as an accountant until he went to work in the self-employed sector.

The first reaction of the owner of the small industry in Avila was to report the break to the UNE, which took several days to get there. “When they came and saw the damage that the lightning had done, they concluded that they had to change the transformer but clarified that the country doesn’t have these three-phase devices, and they could only install a conventional, single-phase one,” explains the employee.

“When we insisted and commented that this workshop supplies a good part of the blocks and tiles that people need in these surroundings, they replied that being a private business, the State had no responsibility. In other words, if a new transformer arrives at the company later, it won’t be for us, but for a state entity that needs it.”

Seven people work in the small industry, all of them with families that depend heavily on the pay that these employees receive. For ten days, these private workers haven’t received a cent, because production has stopped and they haven’t been able to complete the orders. In addition, customers are also delayed in their construction work due to the lack of these materials.

The deficit of transformers of this type is confirmed in the Investment Department of the Electricity Union of Havana, where customers who want to install one to use the benefits of three-phase current in their private business must direct themselves. “There are difficulties, and we can’t guarantee that the device can be installed in the short or medium term,” an employee of this state agency confirms to 14ymedio.

“There are few resources right now, and what we’re doing is advancing the contract of the self-employed who need to install one of these transformers. We do all the paperwork and then the customer must keep calling to know when there is availability. But to promise that he will have it quickly, we can’t do that,” says the UNE worker.

In Havana, Enmanuel and Lucy have been trying for months to get a contract to have a three-phase transformer to supply their ceramics workshop in La Víbora. “We have gone to the commercial office of the Electric Union in the municipality, talked to several officials and explained our need to solve this as soon as possible, but they always respond that right now this equipment isn’t available.”

The couple, who have decided to start a private business in which they combine her industrial design knowledge and his experience as a potter, never believed that a metal rectangle from which cables come out could be the obstacle that would stop them for so long. “No one told us that this was going to be a difficulty the size of the Turquino Peak,” Lucy laments.

A mutual friend has recommended a faster way to solve the problem. This entrepreneur, who runs a turning business, has closed the deal with UNE employees “under the table.” “With 20,000 Cuban pesos, the three-phase transformer appears–the truck to take it, the cables to install it and even the technician who smiles at you after it’s ready,” the man says, ironically.

But Enmanuel and Lucy prefer to do everything “legally.” A path where “all phases are shut down” at the moment.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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