Lessons from the Cuban Energy Revolution

by Tracy Bindel 

On a cold and wet January night, over 100 people packed into the First Baptist Church in JP to hear Mario Alberto Arrastía Ávila finally speak. It had been months since we began waiting for him to receive his visa to the US. Activists and neighbors working on issues ranging from freeing the Cuban 5 to climate change and energy gathered together to welcome Mario in celebration of the recent historical thawing between the United States and Cuba.Mario and Nancy

 Mario, Cuba’s leading Energy Efficiency and Renewables Educator, emphasized the scientific nature of his US speaking tour before alluding to the immense potential for growth in both the US and Cuba as a result of new diplomatic openings.   Candidly, he questioned why everyone is so curious about what is going to happen to Cuba and less so about how these changes are going to affect the United States.  “Both countries have a lot to learn from each other,” he reassured the audience.

Cuba’s Energy Revolution is one of the most ambitious energy renovation programs to date.  “The Special Period in Time of Peace” aka the economic crisis in Cuban history starting in 1989, necessitated country-wide reforms in health care, agriculture, transportation, and energy.JPF Attendees to Cuba Event

Here are some of the Revolution’s accomplishments to date:

  • Public Education: The Ministry of Energy rolled out an education campaign on how to save energy using all kinds of media, from national television to advertisements on billboards and messaging on pre-paid cell phone cards.

  • CFLs:  At the same time social workers and student volunteers went from house to house replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs).  Within six months, Cuba managed to phase out over 9 million incandescent bulbs nationwide which represents a 4% savings of the total Cuban electricity consumption.  Today, Mario boasted, it is impossible to find an incandescent light bulb on any store shelf.

  • Appliances:  The Cuban Energy Revolution also replaced 2.55 million refrigerators with more efficient appliances, recycling 100% of the old ones.   Other household appliances were also replaced on a smaller scale—from air conditioners to televisions.

  • Oil:  Additionally, prior to 2006, the majority of Cuban households were using kerosene for cooking which is both an energy and public health problem.  Three million households were converted to electric cooking within months which saves 250,000 tons of oil annually.

Mario speakingMario highlighted many other significant successes including Cuba’s move to decentralize power in order to be better situated in the future for clean energy infrastructure.

The largest factor inhibiting the continued shift to cleaner energy for Cuba, Mario emphasized, is primarily a financial one.  The Cuban economy continues to struggle despite successfully reinventing itself after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The Cuban Energy Revolution thus far has been about energy efficiency.  With more funding, Cuba hopes to move toward sustainability via renewables.

When questioned about “outside the box” solutions such as solar cookers and bicycle powered machines, Mario responded that such solutions may not feasible saying, “You can’t propose a first world solution to a third world problem.” His perspective was insightful, realistic, and very telling.

To get involved in New England’s own energy efficiency revolution, join with others at Co-op Power to use less energy and meet more of your energy needs with clean energy. You don’t need to be a member to take advantage of our cost-saving programs, but you’ll save even more if you join! Co-op Power is a multi-class, multi-racial movement for a sustainable and just energy future. Click to learn more about Co-op Power and our Community Energy Co-ops in Southern Vermont, Metro Boston, Blackstone Valley (Worcester and Providence), Franklin County, Hampshire County, and Hampden County.

JP Time Exchange Launches

By Jeanette Origel 

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A group of residents from Jamaica Plain and neighboring parts of the city gathered at First Church on Eliot Street Thursday, January 15, to launch the JP Time Exchange.

In a Time Exchange, members share skills and provide services for each other in exchange for time. These services range from, but are not limited to cooking, gardening, carpentry, pet care, and much more. When you provide an hour of service, you are credited with one “Time Hour” in your online account. You can use that Hour for services you need or want, that other members are offering.

Experienced Time Exchangers joined us for the launch, but for those who may have never heard of it before, JP NET staff provided them with a skit showing what a time exchange is and how to make their first encounters go a lot smoother with their neighbors.

They acted out a real life situation for the audience; from the first encounter online, to meeting in person for the first time to go over what they would like to get out of the Exchange. The audience then gave their feedback and were able to ask questions.

The remainder of the evening, neighbors were able to share their needs, gifts, and wants with one another, giving everyone a better idea of what each person has to offer to the local Time Exchange community. This also allowed residents to meet people from their community as well as others near by.

“We’re in a new house and there’s lots of painting and fixing,” said Mary Harman. “[My husband] is a fixer, so it is really obvious to us that there’s stuff to share. I think it will be great!”

The night ended on a great note, introducing everyone to the site and taking them step by step through the online sign-up process. Experienced Time Exchangers contributed to helping new members better understand how it all works.

“I’m pretty excited. I think it’s cool that all of the skills have equal value,” said Jessica Petriello. “It’s kind of ‘I need help with this, this person needs help with that, now let’s work together.”

Those taking part in the JP Time Exchange can look forward to many new interactions and skills. Among the offered services were: web and graphic designing, mentoring, financial advising, and tutoring for kids. Medical professionals among the group even offered to accompany people to dentist and doctor appointments and contribute their knowledge and support “as patient advocates.”

Taking part in the JP Time Exchange means saving money on these services, gaining new skills and meeting neighbors.

To read more and join the JP Time Exchange, visit http://jptransition.org/time-exchange.