The Energy Collapse of Recent Days is ‘Unprecedented’ in Cuba, Recognizes an Electric Company Employee

The fires have damaged the transmission infrastructure in the province of Ciego de Ávila. (Electric Company)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, February 25, 2023 — The energy collapse that has caused four major blackouts on two-thirds of the Island in just nine days “is unprecedented,” Daniel Pérez García, director of the Electric Company of Ciego de Ávila, acknowledged on Thursday.

For the official press, which defines blackouts as “deplorable facts,” the crisis began on Monday, February 13, with the first disconnection of the National Electricity System (SEN) from Ciego de Ávila to Guantánamo due to a fire in a cane field. On Saturday, the 18th, the second blackout of up to six hours occurred in the network that connects Matanzas to Guantánamo, attributed to “human error.”

The service was interrupted again on Tuesday, the 21st and Wednesday the 22nd, with cuts caused, respectively, by a fire and a breakdown whose causes are still unknown.

Blackouts have mainly punished families in the central and eastern provinces. The “starting point” of the crisis is due to the weakness of the electrical system, Carlos Arencibia Fernández, director of the Provincial Loads Office, said at a press conference. Any disturbance causes an automatic frequency trigger as a “protection measure,” he added.

The official said that the system is not robust enough to withstand the maintenance load and the breakdowns in thermal generation units, in addition to the difficulty of obtaining fuel.

The age of the SEN’s infrastructure, with thermoelectric plants more than 40 years in operation, makes it vulnerable to any extreme climatic event. For Arencibia Fernández, the occurrence of fires during the drought period, which extends from November to April, is “normal” under the high voltage networks of 110 to 220 kilovolts (kV). Then, there are the effects on the transmission of energy due to thunderstorms in the summer season.

But in previous years “there were no current consequences because the generation was compensated,” he said.

The fires recorded in Ciego de Ávila have put the electricity infrastructure of the province in tension, warned Pérez García. In recent days the flames have come close to substations such as Morón Norte and Santana, but without impact.

As if that were not enough, he added, there have been 34 interruptions in the service so far in 2023, due to the change of 86 poles that have been affected by fires that occurred as of February 19. In the municipality of Baraguá alone, 17 infrastructures were damaged, he said.

One of the fires also triggered the bioelectric line of the Ciro Redondo power plant, whose function is to protect the transmission of the boilers. Pérez García considered it urgent that it be solved in the coming days to guarantee “better conditions” in the service. For the time being, the directors pointed out that the priority is to restore the supply of electricity to “vital centers,” such as hospitals, dairy companies and sugar mills.

Meanwhile, the Electric Union (UNE) expects the system failures to be solved with the mobile generation in a floating Turkish generator which is being installed in the bay of Santiago de Cuba, as well as the activation of unit 1 of the Lidio Ramón Pérez thermoelectric plant from Felton in Holguín, after several weeks of maintenance, said Alfredo López Valdés, general director of the UNE.

After a 2022 with blackouts of up to 12 hours, the Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy, warned at the beginning of this year that the cuts would continue between January and April for the maintenance of the generators, but he promised that they would be localized and not “as traumatic” as those experienced between August and October of last year.

A month had passed since those statements, when he hardened his prognosis for the power cuts and said that they would occur three hours a day until May.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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