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One of former British energy minister Brian Wilson’s dreams will become reality on Thursday when Havana Energy signs a joint venture agreement in Cuba to produce renewable energy with cane refuse and other biomass vegetation.

Mr Wilson, a former Labour MP and chairman of Havana Energy, said he had always held an interest in the Caribbean island and had worked to forge better bilateral relations

“This is a big step forward for the company and for Cuba, and I hope it pushes forward our bilateral economic relations,” Mr Wilson said.

The venture will burn sugar cane bagasse, the fibrous residue left after cane crushing, and marabu, a hardwood brush that quickly overgrows and renders the land useless. As much as a third of Cuba’s arable land is over-run with marabu, according to the government.

Zerus, a subsidiary of the Cuban state’s sugar monopoly Azcuba, will hold 51 per cent of the new company, named Biopower, and Havana Energy, a subsidiary of the Esencia Group, would have 49 per cent, Andrew Macdonald, chief executive of the British company, said.

“The agreement between Havana Energy and Zerus is excellent news. It will help create jobs, build a greener economy and support the positive economic changes happening in Cuba,” said Tim Cole, Britain’s ambassador to Cuba.

“It is the first joint venture with any EU nation in three years and a major step forward for the bilateral commercial relationship. We hope that other contracts will soon follow,” he said.

Mr Macdonald also heads Esencia, which has a number of other projects with Cuba, including a joint research agreement to investigate marabu’s potential as an activated carbon and a potential agri-energy business on the cleared land.

Several UK institutions have supported the initiative during the past few years, including Strathclyde University, the Scottish Development International, the Crop Institute and the Scottish Agricultural College.

The venture is the first in the sugar sector that will produce energy for the national power grid and one of only a handful of foreign investment projects approved by Cuba over the past few years.

Biopower will set to work early next year harvesting marabu on an experimental basis toward building the first of what it hopes will be five 30-megawatt power plants attached to sugar mills around the country, according to Mr Macdonald.

“We plan to invest about $50m in this first plant in Ciro Redondo [central Cuba], which should be up and running in early 2015,” he said.

President Raúl Castro, who assumed power from his brother Fidel in 2008, is trying to revive the country’s economy through market-oriented reforms that include more foreign investment. However, to date few agreements have been signed.


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