Electrification of Cuba: The Reality So Often Ignored

Elio Delgado Legon

Without the nationalization of the Cuban Electric Co. many rural communities may never have received power.

HAVANA TIMES — In the mid fifties, 1956 to be exact, I attended a fiesta in the town of Cascajal, in Las Villas Province. The reason for the revelry: Electricity had just reached the village.

Before that date the inhabitants of Cascajal had only a small generator that gave them a few hours of electricity at night and of very low quality.

Readers might think that this was some out of the way, remote village – but it wasn’t. The nation’s main highway passed right through the middle of Cascajal and it was close to the border with Matanzas Province.

All this is to say that in this case it wasn’t about supplying electricity to some isolated location. It only required a small investment.

Near that village and along the same central highway is the village of Mordazo, which is a little smaller than Cascajal. However it had to wait until the Revolution in 1959 to receive electric service.

These cases are only examples of the neglect that occurred when it came to the country’s electrification.

The inappropriately named “Cuban Electric Company” (it wasn’t Cuban) only made investments in large cities, where it could quickly recover its investment. The countryside and small towns on the island didn’t produce the big profits; therefore they didn’t “deserve” to receive that service.

For that reason this public service had to be assumed by the state. Areas that weren’t profitable would be subsidized, because what was most important was meeting the needs of the people, not the profits that the activity produced.

Only a few bits of data can illustrate what the situation in Cuba was like in terms of electrification prior to 1959: At the triumph of the revolution, power generation in the country was at 475.6 megawatts, a number that has now increased more than one thousand percent.

A rural Villa Clara community today.

Before the revolution, electricity reached only 60 percent of all households, mostly those in large cities. Today this service reaches more than 96 percent of our households, and as for those places that are in fact remote and where it hasn’t been possible to tie them into the national electric grid, other alternatives have been sought such as solar panels and mini and micro-hydro-generators to improve the quality of life of those people.

Today it’s common to see electrified irrigation systems in the Cuban countryside, where the work of farmers has been humanized and their productivity increased.

With the disappearance of the socialist bloc, with which Cuba had almost all of its trade, a severe crisis resulted. Among the shortages was the supply of oil, which meant a shortfall in electricity generation. This translated into major blackouts experienced at peak consumption times.

In 2004 there was an energy crisis due to a failure in maintaining one of the largest power plants, which therefore necessitated a change in the generation system and the adoption of a number of measures that came to be known as “the Energy Revolution.”

The Energy Revolution consisted mainly of installing groups of smaller generators that were able to replace the old power plants in whole or in parts with the new units scattered all over the country. This revolution also included the replacement of old home appliances with more energy efficient ones, as well as the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones.

New power plants have also been built to increase the use of gas that accompanies domestically produced oil, using a combined cycle that results in a further guarantee of more fuel at a lower cost.

The Cuban Electric Company has also undertaken the total rehabilitation of the distribution network, which was outdated and affected the quality of the electricity supply.

Research and testing for the use of renewable energy won’t stop, and positive results have already been obtained from wind and solar energy.

All these efforts and multi-million-dollar investments have been made in order to improve the conditions of life of the population as much as possible and to continue the development of the country, which would never have achieved what it has in this sector if it had remained in private hands.

From what has been achieved in the electrification of the country, we Cubans are proud, although this reality is ignored by the international press.

9 thoughts on “Electrification of Cuba: The Reality So Often Ignored

  • April 23, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    My maternal family is from Cascajal. I visited every Summer and New Years Holidays until 1962. I remember the old electrical system. It was owned by a local family. There were no meters. Households were charged $1. per light bulb. There was electricity during the day which businesses and homes would use. I imaged the stores, etc. were charged some type of commercial flat rate. There was electricity in Cascajal during the daytime! The local electric system was owned by a Cuban Family. The Cuban Electric Company was not. The residents of Cascajal welcomed the new system in 1956 because it was cheaper and reliable.

    The Cubans did not have the financial resources to own a large or national electric system. We simply were not rich enough to own a telephone company either. I could go down the list of areas of the economy that Cubans could not compete because we did have that much money. The Cuban rich were not as rich as the Castro family would have you believe. Cuban businesspersons are not dumb; if they
    could have developed the electric system, they would have taken the opportunity. Nothing to be ashamed of. Cuba was a young Republic. It had been a colony for four centuries in which the national economic sector was not did not fully develop.

    I love your little town of Cascajal. I visited in 1984. My Family settle there in 1880″s. A Galician and a Matancera. Fraternalmente. L.W. Fernandez

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