General view of the Máximo Gómez Báez Thermoelectric Plant in Mariel, Artemisa province, Cuba, September 20, 2023. EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa

Another fuel crisis causes power outages in Cuba

Havana, Sept 30 (EFE).- Cuba is on the verge of a new fuel crisis that will cause prolonged blackouts in October due to the lack of fuel for thermoelectric power plants, the government has said.

The announcement of this new cycle of shortages, which is set to begin on Sunday, was made by the government on state television this week.

According to the authorities, Cuba is in a “tight situation” but not in a situation of “zero fuel”.

To deal with this emergency, the authorities will implement austerity measures to ration fuel.

“We will not have the amount of fuel we need, nor the amount we had in previous months,” said the Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy.

The lack of electricity is not just a nuisance.

Its most dramatic effect is on the already troubled food supply. Cubans freeze food to cope with shortages, but without electricity, this months-long effort is wasted.

It also affects strategic sectors of the economy. One of the measures to reduce energy consumption is the introduction of telecommuting.

The current situation is not unfamiliar to Cubans, who are used to going from one crisis to another in a short period of time. Since the beginning of the year, there have been months of fuel shortages.

However, in order to avoid social unrest (one of the reasons that motivated the anti-government demonstrations of July 11, 2021 were the blackouts) the state has prioritized avoiding the blackouts during the summer months, when consumption is highest in homes due to fans and air conditioners.

Out of money

With the summer season over, the problem must be addressed.

Authorities are already anticipating even more problems with passenger transportation and long days of blackouts, up to 10 hours in some areas of the country.

For Jorge Piñon, an expert on Cuba at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute, it is all part of a “vicious circle” in which “there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Cuba has neither time nor money,” he argued in a telephone interview with EFE.

The academic emphasized that the problem is not conjunctural but “systemic” and that it is based on two fundamental issues.

On the one hand, he said, the country (in a deep economic crisis and without sufficient foreign currency, according to the Ministry of Economy) needs to invest “about 8,000 million” dollars to “recapitalize” its thermoelectric plants, which are responsible for two-thirds of the electricity consumed on the island and are “more than 40 years old,” well beyond their lifespan.

In addition, the crude oil available on the island is “extra heavy, with a high sulfur content” and therefore corrodes the machinery of the thermoelectric plants.

This situation accelerates their wear and tear, requiring them to be shut down more and more often to be repaired, at the same time, obtaining parts abroad is a headache due to the combination of lack of money and high market prices.

Not to mention that Cuba has to import fuel, practically at preferential prices, from its allies Russia, Venezuela and, in recent months, Mexico, at times when the price of a barrel has risen.

The Minister of Energy admitted that his country is currently forced to “go out to buy almost every day”.

Management problems

For Vicente de la O Levy, “99%” of the causes of the problem are due to the US economic embargo against Cuba. However, Piñón, while admitting that it is a factor, argues that the years of mismanagement in the electricity sector should not be overlooked, recalling the millions spent by the state on the construction of luxury hotels.

Over the past five years, the Cuban government has leased up to seven floating power plants to a Turkish company to compensate for the decline in its own generation capacity – a quick but temporary, polluting and costly solution.

The fragile state of the power system, as well as the population’s sensitivity to blackouts, was highlighted just over a year ago when Hurricane Ian passed through the province of Pinar del Río.

Although the hurricane made landfall in the westernmost part of the country, the entire island was without power for almost a week. This led to a series of protests in various parts of Cuba.EFE