The Electricity Crisis in Cuba From Bad to Worse: Towards a Long and Warm Summer

Cuba’s thermoelectric plants are routinely out of service. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 28 May 2023 — If the current scenario is maintained, the forecast for the coming months is that the blackouts will continue and this when now the hottest months of the year arrive, in which consumption becomes more necessary to face the high temperatures. The situation of the national electricity system, despite what Economy Minister Alejandro Gil said in the national assembly, is one of the absolute inability to comply with the strategy outlined to reduce blackouts during the summer holidays, when demand levels increase in a sustained way.

There is a fairly widespread sense of absolute failure to solve the fuel deficit in the nation. These are the conclusions of an interview in the state press of the minister of the branch, Vicente de la O Levy, in whom many hopes were placed when he was appointed, raising expections that he could address a situation that worries all Cubans. Well, no, realism forces us to think that the problem continues and that neither the generation of electricity in the country nor the sale of fuel in the service centers will be normalized in the short and medium term.

The minister explained some of the actions implemented by the regime, all of them unsuccessful. He cited, for example, what he called “sacrificing the power that was available, with the aim of increasing maintenance work and gradually reducing  breakdowns.”

A work that was carried out “in the worst conditions of supply of spare parts, materials and raw materials for not having access to financing or suppliers, due to the resurgence of the blockade and the inclusion of Cuba in the arbitrary list of countries that support terrorism, prepared by the United States Department of State.”

That is, power plants mostly from Eastern European countries in Soviet times that make up Cuba’s electricity grid cannot renew their parts because of the ’blockade’. But does the ’blockade’ affect Cuba’s trade with these countries? Can the parts only be purchased in the United States?

It doesn’t look like it. The thing is that there is no money at all, and that includes for the purchase of the parts. Nor is there money for many other necessities that have to be imported, which Cuba can’t buy because it doesn’t have the credit to do it. This is what happens when the debts are not paid and the international markets do not give loans. In such conditions, without parts, the results of maintenance and the recovery of power that had been out of service for some time have not allowed a decrease in the blackouts. It’s a failed measure.

The minister insisted on his task of increasing the maintenance load from February, and for this, he decided to pull the consumption of units such as Céspedes and Felton to meet this objective. In such extreme and complex conditions, the average number of hours of affected each day was only reduced to three hours, “being able to rotate the scheduled blocks every four days, except for the days when the system was completely disconnected.” The fact is that the blackouts continued, because their continuous appearance is the result of much more complex factors that are not fixed with these juggling exercises.

And in addition, in a short duration. The minister explained two situations that occurred a short time ago and generated complications: the failure of the fuel supply as a result of a shortage from suppliers (he said that 400 W were left out for this reason) and the exit of the Guiteras thermoelectric plant due to a large-scale breakdown. As a result, the hours when electrical service is affected were extended in almost the entire country, and the alleged improvements in the Céspedes and the Felton plants passed on to a better life immediately.

Looking ahead to the summer, the minister listed some of the actions that are undertaken so that the situation does not worsen, including “the maintenance of Felton 1, the recovery of unit 6 of the Mariel, the maintenance in the Cienfuegos thermoelectric plant, the recovery of power of the engines of the Mariel and Moa, the elevation to 300 MW of the generation of Energas, the recovery of more than 600 MW in distributed generation and the incorporation of new fuel-oil engines (100 MW).” All hasty and with a lack of parts because there is no credit to buy. A bad business.

In particular, and with regard to the effects in Energas, he said that “after several days with more than 300 MW of generation for having drilled a first well of three that are giving us more than 200,000 cubic meters of gas, last Sunday a breakdown occurred that took out all the generation units and limited the manufactured gas destined for the population in the capital.” Then he added that “the service was restored immediately and power has been recovering, until next week, when, again, 300 MW will be delivered.”

The minister believes that with the Guiteras and Energas, before the end of May there will be a considerable decrease in the affected periods and a few months of summer in better conditions. He insisted that “daily, our people have been kept informed about the situation of the national electricity system and of each of these actions,” a measure that also does not solve the problem of the blackouts, and that contributes, even more, to tightening social needs.

The minister also referred to the situation of the 1,000 distribution transformers, which suffered damage during the passage of Hurricane Ian and are being gradually replaced, with priority for strategic sectors such as agriculture. Ian happened in September 2022, soon approaching a year, and they are still trying to solve the problems.

Then, at that time, according to the minister, “it was decided, in addition to taking from the state reserve, to use those that were in the centers of the economy to install them and provide service to the population.” And in this regard, he said that “at the moment raw material for the national production of transformers is arriving in the country, and with this it will be possible to gradually replenish those that were taken, prioritizing strategic sectors such as agriculture.”

And at this point, the minister called on the population and the sectors of the economy to save electricity and fuel, “making a rational and efficient use of energy,” a message that has little to do with the reality of a country in which if consumption is squandered it is not for the population, but for the high level of consumption that the state needs for its platforms of economic control in all areas of economics and society. The communist state is the great squanderer of electricity consumption in Cuba. In addition, it does not pay for it, since everything is charged to the same account. A disaster.

The minister said he hopes that “the lines in the service centers and the situation with the fuel will recover significantly.” Regarding this worrisome aspect and its undesirable effects, the minister said that “we have not had to go to a zero fuel option, with gigantic financial efforts,” but the lines at the gas stations do not seem to indicate that.

The problem is that the lack of fuel in Cuba is generalized not only to gasoline but also to diesel from service and electricity, turbofuel for airlines and to all petroleum derivatives in general. Nobody at this point asked the minister how the production of renewable electricity is going, which barely reaches 5.5% of the total, one of the lowest in the world. Nor has the minister done much to improve this result, which is essential.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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