BY ANITA SNOW THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Fidel Castro announced a long-awaited renovation of Cuba’s energy system to combat blackouts that have afflicted the island nation for the past two summers.
Castro said Cuba would decentralize its power system, gradually replacing five massive fuel-fired electricity plants with smaller, regional plants supplemented by solar and wind power. He outlined the plan in a speech delivered Tuesday night and published Wednesday in state newspapers.
Because the electricity plants in Cuba are so large, mechanical difficulties in any one can affect large areas populated by millions of people. Many of last summer’s blackouts were caused by problems at Antonio Guiteras, a key electricity plant serving Havana’s 2 million inhabitants and neighboring cities.
In the wake of the problems that caused severe blackouts across the island beginning in 2004, “new ideas about the development of a more efficient and secure national electrical system have been put into practice,” Castro said. He said Cuba had ordered more than 4,000 diesel and oil generators and more than 3,000 had already been delivered.
Generators have been installed to maintain power during emergencies at critical sites such as hospitals, schools, meteorological stations and tourist hotels, Castro said.
Blackouts occur in Cuba yearround, but they increase during the hot summer months when electricity use spikes. Problems in the electrical grid are compounded in the late summer and fall when hurricanes batter the island with high winds and heavy rainfall, causing additional damage to the antiquated infrastructure and often knocking out power in some regions for days.
Last summer, Cubans sweltered during frequent blackouts that kept them from operating fans and water pumps when the heat topped 90 degrees.
In many homes, milk and other refrigerated food spoiled, and power surges damaged refrigerators, televisions and other appliances difficult to replace on meager Cuban salaries.
Castro has promised Cubans since early 2005 that a major overhaul of the electrical grid was being planned.
The plan also calls for replacing old electrical cables and for conducting government studies on ways to make better use of solar and wind energy, Castro said.
He detailed the proposal in a more than two-hour speech to electrical workers and Communist Party faithful in the western province of Pinar del Rio.