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    ¿Divorcio antes de la boda?

    Bioelectricity seems to be the owner of a certain mysticism. Photo: Alejandro Garcia

    Seen from below, where it begins to be born, one imagines that the first bioelectric plant built in Cuba has claims of eternity, and even seems to possess a certain mysticism. Stored marabou biomass appears and hides; some very high eaves where men tied to security tapes once worked like ants; thick, insulated steam pipes, a generator that vibrated during the first tests; two boilers enclosed in a metal building 42 meters high by 14 wide… an ecstatic hum.

    Gr, grr, grrr, grrrrrrrrr! The sound of the turbo generator pierces your ears as you approach. Hopefully it is chronic and only stops being heard because of some scheduled maintenance at the bioelectric plant or at the Ciro Redondo power plant, a marriage forced to get along, although until now there have been plenty of disquisitions.

    Between prophecies, omens and conjectures, the project began four years ago; sometimes by forced March; others, with spasm slowness.

    This is the faithful reflection in the mind of those who have followed the crossroads between the plant and the central, who have seen them climb over internal and external obstacles (the latter marked by the suffocating United States blockade); who saw with eyes of progress when in April 2017 the ambassadors of the United Kingdom and the Popular Republic of China attended the symbolic placement of the rock that marked the era of the beginning in Cuba of the use of renewable energy, based on sugarcane biomass and the marabou, something unprecedented in the world, according to specialists.


    From the top of the dome of the caldera, among the highest places in the municipality of Ciro Redondo, the greenery of the cane fields and other crops is shown with some splendor. The visitor observes even the access roads and the streets of the town, but not the areas of marabou that one day suffocated the area from all four sides.

    The reserves of the stickleback are further away from the generating enclave; even the harvesting teams came to cut it more than 20 kilometers away.

    When the route exceeds 50 kilometers, the transfer of biomass will not be convenient, nor will tractors be able to do it. By then, we will have to look for alternatives, other means of transport and another way of collecting it. In other words, new investments would have to be made.

    There have been few thorns. To the extent that the start-up of the plant was delayed, it was necessary to grind marabou, more and more, so much so that they have freed from the malevolent plant a figure greater than 6,000 hectares, from which 200,000 tons of biomass came out; lands to which Agriculture and Azcuba have not yet given full use value.

    "This weakness, as incredible as it may seem, is convenient for us, because the thorny tree takes advantage of it to grow again," says Orlando Suárez Pino, Manager of Transport Operations and Exploitation of the mixed company Biopower SA, whose shareholders are the British company Havana Energy and Zerus, the latter subordinated to Grupo Azucarero Azcuba.

    In the field, a rodent, the only survivor of the passage of time and the rigor of the work, crushes it, breaks it up so that it can be gobbled up, burned and converted into electricity.

    In the face of Orlando Suárez Pino concern is drawn by the low coefficient of use. Of the 11 park, only one remains active and each day they stop delivering, on average, 750 tons of biomass.

    Contrary to vox populi and the technical state that they now exhibit, the harvesters are of excellent quality and their entry into the country was certified by the Agricultural Machinery Research Institute. What happened was that the investment money was not enough to buy parts, new harvesters, or to activate the machinery workshop, which never existed, which is why operators and mechanics have to repair breakdowns without ideal conditions for it.

    «When they go into action they can bump into any object, because a hydrant appears the same as a tractor tire, a piece of cane cutters, an engine block... We have even found cement walls submerged in the marabou and, if it is at night, when visibility is difficult, you know. The machines suffer so much that even their color changed due to the constant “scratching” of the marabou,” says engineer Armando Urquiola Martín, Logistics Manager of the company Biopower S.A.

    He affirms that for three years no parts, tires, or aggregates have entered – only some belts arrived a long time ago – that ensure optimal technical availability. «Before the end of the first quarter of 2022, some logistics are expected to reactivate them. Meanwhile, we look for our own alternatives that do not always solve the problems, because they are very sophisticated”, he argues.

    Among the drawbacks is the fact that they are designed to work in fields conditioned for harvesting trees, not for those born in any terrain, with irregularities, holes, elevations, foreign objects and whatever appears on the road.

    The absence of the harvesters has paralyzed the bioelectric plant and the central plant on several occasions; the last one, on January 19, when just 13 days after starting the 2021-2022 harvest, the mill was forced to exit the system due to lack of marabou biomass, at a time when it was grinding at 60% of his capacity.

    Because of the new stumbling block, it will be almost impossible for it to meet the 62,041 tons of sugar until next April, it will put the province's goal at risk and will once again unleash national controversy among those who claimed that "now it is."

    «It will enter the ring when there is enough raw material. For now, we plan to activate this month on January 1, which was not planned to be included in the contest," explains Eduardo Larrosa Vázquez, director of Coordination and Technical Supervision of the Azcuba Sugar Group in Ciego de Ávila.

    Faced with so many setbacks, the search for alternatives to, in the first instance, register the harvesters, the main reason, now, that Ciro Redondo has stopped the milling, cannot be delayed.

    Similarly, it is necessary to speed up the creation of marabou collection centers in other parts of the province and seek mechanisms so that third parties can sell the forest biomass in the bioelectric plant itself, for which new investments will be required, including a chipper that converts cut trees into affordable raw material for boilers.

    A harvest also means 106 days of life for the municipality, which depends almost entirely on the central; a harvest that cannot be eclipsed because there is no forest biomass.

    The initial idea was to plant forests, cane and other crops in the liberated areas, which is why it is surprising and worrying not only that they have not been used after they were freed from the spiny, but also that there are those who consider that the solution to this problem of lack of biomass in the bioelectric plant, or that the marabou will proliferate again, in that already clean space, to continue with the cycle of cutting it down and “making it” electricity.

    The automatic control engineer Carmen Taboada Hernández, vice president of Biopower SA, specifies that: "since we started generation, at the beginning of 2020, including slips, we have saved several million dollars by generating electricity with biomass, without the use of another fuel.

    According to data provided by the Load Dispatch of the Ciego de Ávila Electric Company, from January 17, 2020 to January 19 of this year, the more than 138,000 megawatt hours delivered by the bioelectric plant to the National Electroenergetic System are equivalent to consumption of approximately 827,800 homes or that of the state and residential sectors of the province of Ciego de Ávila for two months, without the use of some 30,500 tons of fuel in the country's thermoelectric plants.