Work Suspended in ‘Non-essential’ Companies to Limit Blackouts in Cuba

Reports of blackouts have multiplied in recent days throughout the Island. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 May 2021 — After hundreds of complaints in the social networks, Cuban authorities announced this Friday that the electrical blackouts in recent days are due to breakages in plants in Matanzas and Havana and that they are working on the problem.

Directors of the Ministry of Energy and Mines said on The Roundtable TV program that blackouts could increase over the weekend, so the Government has taken drastic measures, such as stopping work in companies and institutions “that do not provide essential services to the population.”

Before that TV program aired, the explanations given by the Cuban Electricity Union (UNE) were vague. On Friday morning, an operator of the customer service number explained to this newspaper that “there was a deficiency in the demand for power for electricity service.” When she was asked if there is a lack of oil to produce electricity, she hung up the phone.

“It is not so much a problem of fuel as of capacity. But disclosing this information is forbidden due to the subject’s sensitivity”

“The electric company does not have the capacity to produce all the electricity the country needs,” an executive from the state entity told el Nuevo Herald anonymously. “It is not so much a problem of fuel as of capacity. But disclosing this information is forbidden due to the subject’s sensitivity”.

Reports of blackouts have multiplied in recent days throughout the island, without the official media addressing the issue.

In Colón, in the province of Matanzas, there have been intermittent blackouts in the last three days, lasting between one and six hours, according to testimonies from the place, and cities such as Cárdenas, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Río have also been reporting power outages.

“Intermittent blackouts will continue. These are leaping, unscheduled blackouts,” another source told the Herald.

Meanwhile, citizens have continued to publicize electricity service interruptions through social networks under the hashtag #reportoApagonCuba.

“This is how things are in Matanzas. Wednesday: 2 – 4 pm. Thursday: 12- 4 pm. Friday: 9 and counting”, the user @ Jancelito99 complained this Friday. By then, the complaints had been going on for several days. On May 12th, @PedroPerezCuban tweeted: “They say that there is a generator deficit due to fuel. And summer isn’t even here yet. It seems that it is just a trailer for the movie that they are going to give us. #DownWith the Dictatorship.”

In Mayarí, Holguín, independent reporter Osmel Ramírez Álvarez declared that he can only eat mango: “Blackout lunch! They have been cutting off electricity for three days for several hours. And here they use electrical equipment to cook with! Because they still don’t sell liquefied gas. Luckily, we are in the midst of mango season”, he wrote on his Facebook account.

In addition to the serious effects on water pumping caused by power cuts, cooking is also severely affected, especially in locations where liquified or manufactured gas service is not available. In most rural towns and municipalities, families depend on household appliances to cook food.

“Blackout lunch! They’ve been turning the electricity off for three days for several hours. And here, they cook with electrical equipment!”

In Artemisa, after complaints from several users about interruptions to the electrical service this Friday, the local press published that the blackouts in that province were due “to generator deficit, and two thermoelectric plants that are out of service, withdrawn by the National Office”. An electricity company official said that when these interruptions occur “it is impossible to notify customers” and the service takes between 3 and 4 hours to be restored. However, in the information comments of the official media, many residents complained that the cuts have been going on for several days and last up to eight hours.

The return of the blackouts, an infamous memory for those who lived through the so-called Special Period in the 90’s, has been feared by Cubans for months, when some service interruptions began, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Back then, the National Office for the Control of the Rational Use of Energy called the campaign “Save Now” in view of the “huge increase in demand and consumption”. With the confinement, since the first half of April, 2020, the use of air conditioners, fans and other household appliances skyrocketed. “All this high consumption causes perfectly avoidable breakdowns if the population becomes aware of the effectiveness of using energy rationally,” the director of the Havana Electric Company justified in those days.

Months earlier, fuel shortages had led to a reduction in public transportation and working hours at many state offices, as well as supply problems at gas stations.

The pandemic has further sunk the country’s finances, which were already plagued with problems due to its inefficient economic system and the withdrawal of aid from its Venezuelan ally. The electric company acknowledged at the end of last year that “it has not been able to guarantee the production of photovoltaic panels to make available to the retail network for sale to the population.”

Faced with the rise in electricity rates, there was an increase in demands to introduce electrical generation systems based on solar and wind energy, which are currently not marketed for the residential sector or for the self-employed. In mid-March, officials from Customs and UNE announced a prompt “elimination of tariffs,” however, the electric company pointed out that Customs is responsible for the actual limitations.

The Government intends to change its energy matrix by 2030 with the intention that 2% of the Island’s energy will come from renewable sources

According to official data, 95% of the kilowatt hours that the country needs are produced through the use of fossil fuels. In addition, more than half of the fuel used to generate electricity is imported, “at prices that include premium values imposed by suppliers, to compensate for the possible risk of being sanctioned, due to the application of the US blockade [i.e., the embargo] laws against Cuba, to which the costs for freight and insurance are added”, said Liván Arronte Cruz, the Minister of Energy and Mines on a Roundtable program.

The Government intends to change its energy matrix by 2030 with the intention that 2% of the Island’s energy (around 2,300 megawatts) will come from renewable sources, mainly from bioelectric plants and solar parks.

Now, 50% of the electricity produced in Cuba comes from the eight thermoelectric plants that it has in operation and that are fed with the subsidized oil sent by Venezuela. Shipments from the South American country have collapsed in the last five years as a result of the severe economic crisis that nation is experiencing, which has forced Havana to look for alternative suppliers at market prices, since its own production barely covers 40% of the domestic demand.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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