Cuba: Wind Power vs. Oil
June 21, 2013
Isbel Díaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — It would seem that local newspapers are intent on
misinforming the public – both at home and abroad – about the Cuban
government’s priorities with respect to the development of alternative
A case in point was the news surrounding the recently-concluded congress
of the World Wind Energy Association and the Renewable Energy Exhibition
(WWEC 2013), held in Havana at the beginning of this month.
During a press conference, the director of Cuba’s Center for the Study
of Renewable Energy Technologies (CETER), Conrado Moreno, declared that
Cuba plans on developing the infrastructure needed to generate at least
10 percent of its electricity with renewable sources by the year 2030.
In this connection, the official lauded “the great strides in the
development of wind power technologies” that Cuba has made in recent
years, adding that the country has “a program the world can learn from.”
However, thanks to this impressive wind power “program”, whose installed
capacity was less than 0.5 Megawatts (MW) in 2005, the country barely
produced 12 MW of electricity in 2010.
That Cuba should present the congress with such an out-of-date figure (a
figure which, in addition, is anything but impressive, representing a
mere 0.08 % of the country’s entire energy output) should raise some
This figure may help explain why it will take thirteen years for the
country to be able to generate 10 % of its energy with wind power and
the other renewable sources of energy used on the island.
The fact of the matter is that Cuba currently has 9,343 wind turbines,
15 turbines and 4 wind farms in operation, for an installed capacity of
11.7 MW, a figure which places it beneath 68 other countries around the
As a way of comparison, in 2010 Nicaragua had a generating capacity of
40 MW (the equivalent of 5 % of the country’s total installed capacity),
garnered from wind power technologies alone, while Cuba currently
generates a mere 4 % of its electricity via renewable energy sources in
Local optimism, however, isn’t dampened by any of this, and experts
continue to extol the virtues of Cuba’s largest wind farm (with a
capacity of 51 MW), whose construction on the northern coast of the
island’s eastern province of Las Tunas, a place of allegedly “ideal”
wind conditions, is expected to be completed next year.
It is estimated that the wind farm could generate some 153 GW/h a year,
allowing the country to cut down its fossil fuel consumption by some 40
thousand tons a year.
Not without a number of altercations at different levels, the Cuban
government has managed to secure the environmental licenses required for
the project from the pertinent agencies rather quickly, giving
technicians a mere week to collect the required data.
The Wind Energy Debate
Wind power is an abundant, renewable and clean energy resource which can
aid in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Cubans, however, have
never received any in-depth information regarding its benefits and
limitations, nor have we ultimately been consulted in connection with
Boasting of a relatively high Energy Return Rate* (18.1:1), wind power
is cursed by one, significant limitation: its intermittence, that is,
the fact that wind currents are not constant.
According to experts, wind currents on Cuba’s northern coastline are not
uniform and are heavily influenced by local conditions, resulting from
the interaction of trade and local winds and seasonal meteorological events.
Because of this, wind power can only ever supplement, never wholly
replace, fossil fuel sources on the island, as the contribution of
conventional energy sources is indispensible. In addition, as these
conventional technologies operate in “backup mode” in this scheme, they
consume a lot more fuel per KW produced every hour.
Fossil fuels are also consumed during the process of constructing the
wind farm (during the mining of the materials, transportation and
industrial processing) and all subsequent, indispensable maintenance
Another inconvenient aspect of this technology is that winds must reach
a certain, minimum velocity to be able to move the blades of the
turbines. There is also a maximum wind velocity that, if exceeded,
causes the entire network circuit to shut down.
In addition to the noise they produce and the disruption of the natural
environment they represent, these wind farms reportedly affect the
routes of migratory birds or the areas where these birds avail
themselves of lateral winds, and the creation of access roads – and
regular human presence, in general – damages local fauna.
The limitations of this technology, and the impact it has on the
environment, ought not make us reject wind farms outright, but should,
rather, make us re-think the way in which we have been implementing the
technology and how congruous it is with the country’s global development
strategy, as well as prompt us to demand accurate information in this
Cuba has been working in the renewable energy field for decades without
any type of legal regulations and without incurring any legal action
from anyone. Recently, the director of CETER claimed that “a team of
experts is working to implement it [the legal regulations] in a manner
that suits Cuba’s economic development model.”
The Oil Question
One of the more disquieting aspects of the wind power issue is how the
Cuban media portray its state of development on the island, selling an
image of a sustainable and ecological program, when, in fact, the
country is heading down the more profitable road, caring little about
its environmental impact.
Some statements we find in the press include:
“In recent years, Cuba has made great progress in the development of
wind power technologies.” / “Cuba has developed a wind power
infrastructure (…) which only highly developed countries can boast of.”
/ “Cuba’s renewable energy program includes photovoltaic energy sources,
which have experienced considerable development since the 1990s.” / “The
‘solarization’ of Cuba’s energy generating system.” / “The generation of
electricity with renewable sources of energy will grow by 949 MW.”
As these grandiloquent reports on “green” energy sources are published,
oil prospecting projects across Cuba’s platform continue in almost utter
silence. This means that the government continues to invest heavily in
this polluting energy source.
Cuban oil experts and government officials had anticipated that the
country would be producing 90 % of its electricity with domestic oil
reserves by 2010, but were unable to achieve this.
According to recent declarations made by Jorge Piñon, Associate Director
of the Latin American and Caribbean Energy Program, Cuba could be
producing as many as 250 thousand barrels of crude a day within five to
Enthusiastic Cuban government experts estimate that the Gulf of Mexico
platform could contain as many as 20 billion barrels of oil. The U.S.
Geological Service estimate is considerably more modest, calculating
reserve volumes there at 5 billion oil barrels.
To date, results have not been exactly promising. The “Scarabeo 9”
platform had to pull out of the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone last
year, following three unsuccessful attempts to find oil in the area.
To top things off, a few weeks ago, the Russian oil company Zarubezhneft
decided to push back prospecting efforts to 2014, reporting
“complications of a geological nature.”
These fiascos do little to burst the oil bubble of the Cuban government,
which continues to spend millions in prospecting infrastructure.
Following the intensive modernization of the country’s thermoelectric
plants ten years ago, Cuba is now working to expand its refinery in
Cienfuegos, construct an oil duct connecting Cienfuegos and Matanzas,
build a storage facility that can house 600 thousand oil barrels in
Matanzas and complete the vast commercial port in Mariel (a billion
dollar investment), and in many other related projects.
In the meantime, Venezuela continues to ship an average of 100 thousand
barrels of oil to the island every day, 30 thousand of which are
financed by PetroCaribe, as per a 25-year agreement with an interest
rate of only 1 % signed with the island.
What will Cuba do in 2030, then, when it has the infrastructure to
generate 10 % of its electricity using renewable energy sources? Will it
have found the oil it seeks by then? Will it abandon the idea of using
this oil for energy production? Will it sell it to the United States?
According to the most recent report issued by the National Intelligence
Council, the CIA bureau responsible for analyzing and anticipating
geopolitical and economic developments around the world, by 2030 the
United States (the world’s largest importer of hydrocarbons today) will
be entirely self-sufficient in terms of oil resources, and the world’s
oil market could well collapse as a result of this.
We must acknowledge that hydrocarbons continue to be the world’s chief
energy resource and that, like the rest of the world, Cuba does not have
the infrastructure or programs needed to make the transition to a
Broadening Cuba’s Energy Sources
Many experts agree that the diversification and expansion of energy
sources must become one of the pillars of Cuba’s future energy
A broad range of alternative energy sources, from natural gas (the least
polluting of all hydrocarbons) to renewable sources such as ethanol
extracted from sugar cane, wind power, solar energy and bio-gas could be
developed in Cuba.
That said, according to Cuba’s National Statistics Bureau, the amount of
energy Cuba produced using renewable sources in 2011 was nearly 2
million tons less of oil equivalent than in 2001. This report reveals a
marked decline in the use of these alternative energy sources in the
course of the decade, a trend which coincides with the “oil enthusiasm”
of recent years and the shutting down of numerous sugar refineries
across the country.
The greatest drop was experienced in the use of biomass (chiefly sugar
cane bagasse). Hydroelectric plants are the most widely used forms of
primary energy production, while wind power generators occupy the fifth
place among renewable energy technologies used on the island.
In recent years, experts in the field have voiced complaints that Cuba’s
Electricity Law does not particularly encourage the use and commercial
promotion of renewable energy sources.
The truth of the matter is that none of these sources of energy afford
us one, magical solution to the problem of the energy deficit, and many
of these technologies pose serious bioethical questions. If anything,
they underscore the fact that the demands of contemporary society,
engineered by global capitalism, are insatiable.
The policy of development at all costs, planned obsolescence, the
alienation of individuals and collectives in productive processes, the
outsourcing of production, the deification of consumption, policies
which protect banks and international financial institutions, these and
many other problems are at the root of the crisis faced by the energy
sector and, I dare say, our civilization as a whole.
In the words of social anthropologist Emilio Santiago Muiño, “a
sustainable system which is not grounded in marketing implies a profound
change in lifestyle.”
Cuban economists and politicians do not appear to be equipped with the
mentality needed to understand this. They are prey to the same ills
mentioned above, and they are irresponsibly supported, in their
policies, by a good part of Cuba’s scientific community, which does
little to re-think the idea of “development” that prevails today.
At the recently-concluded world conference on wind power, Cuba sought to
put together a business portfolio with a view to signing international
agreements and broadening productive capacities in the sector.
This, which appears commendable, is congruous with the pragmatism of
calculating analysts within and outside Cuba, who seek a painless
reinsertion of the island’s economy in the international market.
*Energy Return Rate (ERR): Amount of primary energy that must be
invested in order to produce energy with a given source.
Source: “Cuba: Wind Power vs. Oil – Cuba’s Havana Times.org” –