HAVANA TIMES – The fire in unit 2 of the Lidio Ramón Pérez plant in Felton (Mayarí) has been “a hard blow” for the Cuban electrical system and repairing it “will not be a quick process. It will take us at least more than a year to recover that boiler and put the machine into generation,” warned Edier Guzmán Pacheco, technical director of the Electric Union of Cuba (UNE), on national television on Monday.
The technician appeared with the Minister of Energy and Mines, Livan Arronte Cruz, head of the most unstable sector at the moment on the island, who spoke last night to give explanations to a population fed up with the situation — generated by the endless blackouts and power outages — that for the official is “complex and tense, but has a solution, which is not immediate, but gradual.”
Arronte recalled that Felton 2 has a high generating capacity (about 255 MW per hour) that has been lost since the accident, of which he gave details last night. The unit, which had been subjected to maintenance and entered the system at the beginning of July, suffered a “fracture in a fuel return pipe of the burners, causing significant damage to one of the four main columns of the boiler,” which put an end to the forecasts that the Government had made, since even the reserves were lost.
Guzman Pacheco explained that the maintenance work on the unit lasted a month longer than expected. When finally, and after several more inconveniences, it was going to come into operation, they shut down the boiler to change the gas. At that time, one of the elbows of the pipe failed, and the fuel spilled on the boiler, which was turned off but still hot, resulting in a big fire.
Although the firefighters managed to control it in 15 minutes, the intensity of the fire was great. “The flame had a direct impact on one of the columns that supports the structure of the entire boiler, which failed to move on the vertical axis more than a meter, causing the movement of all the columns of the boiler.” It could have been even worse, the official explained, and the boiler could have collapsed, but the risks persist, since the structure is damaged and could still fall.
The technician explained that there are parts of the boiler, such as air heaters or fans, that aren’t damaged, but the situation is being evaluated to determine the consequences and how long it will take to recover.
More dedicated to the political side, Minister Arronte Cruz reviewed the well-known data, such as that the reserves are non-existent, that the national system operates at less than 40% of its capacity — with an availability of around 2,500 MW of the 6,558 MW installed; that the plants should have been retired years ago and that the country must invest large amounts of money in energy because “the blockade” forces them to bring the fuel from further away, the value of which is not included in the 250 million dollars per year that the system costs to maintain.
“The last ships we have been able to acquire cost around 64 or 67 million dollars and bring about 40,000 tons, which are enough for a maximum of 10 days of consumption in the country. It costs us almost 30% more, because we must bring it from distant markets,” he said. Last Thursday, a shipment of 700,000 barrels of Russian fuel arrived on the island, although this is not the fuel used in power plants. The minister did not mention the free oil that has been received from Venezuela for more than 20 years and that, although in dwindling amounts, still reaches the island.
Genset plants were also discussed on State TV’s Roundtable program, of course mentioning that it was Fidel Castro’s idea to develop this program during the years of the so-called energy revolution. The director, Arles Luna Leiva, overwhelmed the audience with technical details about the system, which consists of 1,334 MW in diesel, of which only 560 are obtained per day (944 groups in 154 power plants), and 1,272 MW in fuel that generates just 300 MW (507 groups in 35 power plants). There are 752 groups of gensets out of service for different reasons, ranging from breaks to lack of maintenance.
“In the distributed generation there are no projections of foreign investment at the moment,” the official said. Turkey has so far sent five floating generating plants that are strengthening the system, but the deficiency is so great that the problems are not solved with the approximately 15 MW provided by each of these structures.
Cuban energy managers said that they were concerned about the long hours without electricity that Cubans spend, although they again asked the population for savings and sacrifice and insisted that they maintain a constant communication policy to try to affect the lives of citizens as little as possible, even at this time of year when, they said, the climate considerably affects electrical structures, causing more breakdowns than expected.
They said that’s what happened in Los Palacios last Thursday, when the four or five hour cuts in electricity planned in the municipality were joined by a break as a result of a storm. Users, as reflected in the multiple comments on the news of the electricity deficit, claim that the provinces, where power outages are longer, are being punished to the extreme. That claim was reflected in a statement from the Trotskyist group, Communists of Cuba, which stated on Friday that the restrictions are in place where the population expressed less discontent on July 11 of last year, such as in Pinar del Río, where there were no demonstrations.
In the TV program, the specialists offered a detailed schedule of how maintenance and repair actions will be carried out that should lead to energy recovery, but a dialogue between two readers of Cubadebate this Sunday reflected with great precision the problem of the country’s energy system and in much fewer words than those used yesterday by officials.
“And what happened again to Felton 1?” one asked. To which another replied: “The same thing that happens to someone who never goes to the doctor and has a problem. It’s cured and another problem appears.”