By Andrea R. Mihailescu
United Press International Energy Correspondent
Washington, DC, Jun. 6 (UPI)—Cuban President Fidel Castro’s pledged to end ongoing blackouts before 2007 as power outages continue to plague Cuba.
Severe weather last Wednesday caused breakdowns in power plants and damage to transmission lines that affected Havana and other parts of Cuba for several days, according to a statement issued Thursday from Cuban state-owned Electric Union of Cuba, or UE.
The statement added blackouts could last on average of some six hours a day.
Cuba lacks the necessary resources to deal with recurring outages.
“I said that a considerable volume of maintenance and repairs would be carried out if we received the resources, obtained the material, and had the men and forces available to make this focus and this volume of strategic work possible, which would allow us to be in better shape by July and August,” said Yadira Garcia, Cuban minister of Basic Industry, during Castro’s television address to the nation on May 26.
He said even with the current maintenance work, it would be difficult to recover completely because of an increase in fuel consumption, old machinery and repair costs.
“The technology for these plants, some of which are Soviet and Czech, is really no longer manufactured by the factories that produced certain parts,” he said. “We have to order many of them, and it takes months for these resources to arrive.”
The blackouts are similar to those experienced in late a 2004, when outages lasting an average of 10 hours daily were followed by a major breakdown at the Antonio Guiteras plant. Cuban Basic Industry Minister Marcos Portal was dismissed following those outages.
Losses for the 2004 outages were estimated at $200 million and Cuba conducted a review of state policy to strengthen the electric system, which Castro called “fragile.”
In preparation for peaking electrical usage for this summer, Cuba is undergoing maintenance work on its electrical sector water-storage facilities to minimize the number of blackouts.
The recent UE statement noted damages are pronounced when “a significant portion of the national electric system’s generating capacity” is off line for maintenance, prior to summer.
Castro said in April investment in the power industry and new administrative measures would end the blackouts by the end of 2006.
Despite challenges, Castro pledged during his television address to modernize the country’s distribution system and to improve its power grid that would employ domestically manufactured transformers and plants that would be adapted to use gas produced in Cuba.
Efficient use of electricity in Cuba continues to be a challenge.
“We could say that much of the electricity in our country is being wasted,” said Vicente de la O, director of the National Electricity Union.
Castro said fluorescent lighting will replace normal light bulbs; new energy-efficient rice cookers and refrigerators will be distributed.
More than 90 percent of Cuba’s electricity, which supplies 11 million Cubans, is fueled by nine oil or gas power plants. Cuba has forged oil and gas deals with Brazilian, French, Canadian, Spanish and Venezuelan companies. Castro has also solicited U.S. companies to participate in developing the country’s energy infrastructure.