UK company deliver first major renewables project in Cuba

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The Biopower plant will burn sugarcane waste January to May, and marabu chips June to December. Photo supplied by Biopower.

HAVANA, April 27th A UK company led by two Scots will today deliver Cuba’s first major renewables project in a bid to cut the country’s heavy reliance on oil imports from Venezuela.

A ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled at the Ciro Redondo sugar mill for the first of four biomass power plants costing a total of £500 million and adding 300 megawatts to the country’s power grid.

It has been a long haul made infinitely more difficult by the American blockade Brian Wilson Andrew MacDonald and former UK energy minister Brian Wilson founded Havana Energy after being asked by the Cuban government to help it with its energy needs.

Havana Energy secured a joint venture with the Cuban sugar ministry in 2012 to build the plants. However, the plans were stalled by the difficulty in getting foreign investment due to the continuing US blockade of Cuba.

Eventually, the UK company found technical and investment partners in the Chinese conglomerate, Shanghai Electric. Wilson told The Scotsman from the Cuban capital: “It has been a long haul made infinitely more difficult by the American blockade.

“The outcome confirms how crazy that policy is – after decades trying to get rid of the Russians, the US is still creating conditions in which a Chinese company fills the void.” He described Shanghai Electric as “terrific partners”, which were now expected to bid for other major infrastructure projects in Cuba.

The joint venture, called Biopower, will be headed by MacDonald, who has a history of working in developing markets and now lives in Havana. Wilson said: “Without Andrew’s presence on the ground and his utter commitment to overcoming obstacles, we would never have reached this point.

There is still the challenge of funding subsequent plants but the first one was always going to be the most difficult”. MacDonald added: “The fact that we are now delivering the first of these power stations should give other investors confidence in the potential of Cuba where change is in the offing and the opportunities are many and varied”.

The biomass project will use residues of the sugar crop, and by burning an invasive weed called marabou which has taken over 1.5 million hectares in Cuba as agriculture has diminished. Marabou was found by Havana Energy after tests in the UK to be a highly effective biomass fuel. Today’s ceremony is being attended by the British and Chinese ambassadors in Havana, as well as Cuban dignitaries.