Cuba top official leads Venezuelan energy crisis efforts

Cuba sent a high-profile politician to Venezuela to help the South American country fix an energy crisis that has caused rolling blackouts.

The move put Cuba’s “Energy Revolution” exports in the spotlight, triggered a controversy in the country’s opposition media, and ruffled feathers among electric company management and unions in Venezuela.

Last week, Ramiro Valdés, the No. 3 in Cuba’s hierarchy, arrived in Caracas to head a technical commission that is tackling Venezuela’s electricity shortage.

It wasn’t clear how long the Cuban vice president of the Council of Ministers and technology minister, was going to stay in Venezuela.

Since 2008, Cuba and Venezuela have been implementing a 1,000-mw distributed-energy program, as part of a 10-year old bilateral energy cooperation agreement. Cuba has supplied Venezuela with at least 43 diesel and fuel-oil generator clusters, for a capacity of 636 mw, and is in the process of bringing in some 30 more. Some 200 Cuban electrical engineers and technicians have been working in the country.

The power deficit is caused by record-low water levels in Venezuela’s largest reservoir and the lack of backup capacity.  The country generates 70 percent of its electricity with water power.

To tackle the blackout problem, President Hugo Chávez recently decided to double the capacity to be installed by the Cubans, according to Caracas newspaper El Nacional. Venezuela, reports the opposition newspaper, is paying Cuba an additional $2.4 billion for the program. The daily attributed the figure to a former official of the Venezuelan energy ministry. According to that source, under a 10-year old agreement Venezuela pays Cuba $1,000 per installed kilowatt, plus $1,200 per kw for associated infrastructure and $200 per kw generated.

Valdés and the commission are working closely with Venezuelan Energy Minister Alí Rodríguez Araque.

Brazilian and Argentinean teams are also included in the effort, contributing know-how on hydroelectric and thermoelectric plants.

Venezuelan experts quoted by opposition newspaper El Universal claimed the equipment used by Cuba is “expensive, old-fashioned and short-lived.”

In Cuba, the new distributed system has helped the country overcome a major energy crisis. Since 2006, in an effort to remodel the entire power concept on the island, Cuba has bought and installed hundreds of generators from manufacturers such as Guascor, Hyundai, MAN B&W, and MTU.

The country is now propagating its distributed power generation concept as a model for fellow ALBA member countries and other developing nations. According to official news agency AIN, Cuba already provided seven mini power plants to Nicaragua, which has begun to export electricity thanks to a Cuban-inspired decentralized power generation program, and one 60-mw power plant to Haiti. Likewise, Cuban electric engineering teams are working in Ecuador and Equatorial Guinea in Africa.

Official sources didn’t say where the generators for Venezuela were bought, and who paid for them. Some 300 BR4000 container generators made by MTU — a type Cuba has bought for use on the island — have been installed in Venezuela. One industry observer speculated that Cuba simply resold some of the hundreds of generators it has bought since 2006.

The projects in Venezuela are handled by Alba Bolivariana, a Cuban-Venezuelan joint venture. Venezuela has funded most of the ALBA energy programs.

Photovoltaic systems

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s Fundelec announced it will buy $6.2 million worth of Cuban-made photovoltaic solar energy arrays. In its “Sowing Light” program, Fundelec plans to install 1,531 photovoltaic arrays in remote areas. “Sowing Light” is also part of the Cuban-Venezuelan energy program.

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