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HomesingaporeKeppel power plant to be built on former chemical plant site; nature...

Keppel power plant to be built on former chemical plant site; nature groups say further study needed

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s first hydrogen-ready power plant will be built on a “largely brownfield site” that was previously occupied by a chemical plant for over 15 years, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Monday evening.

Brownfield sites refer to land that has been cleared for urban or industrial use. This means that the habitats generally have lower levels of biodiversity.

The clarification came after Keppel’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the power plant’s development said it would be built on reclaimed land, and hence the “terrestrial biodiversity environment” for the project site was not of concern.

Released on Aug 8, the report – which was done by global consulting firm Advisian and engineering firm Worley – had also concluded that the construction of the power plant will have “no impact” on the marine environment, as most of the coral reef habitats and seagrass areas are located further down south in the Southern Islands.

The report drew the ire of several nature groups here, which said it lacked rigour and paid inadequate attention to the plant’s impact on land-based biodiversity.

The Keppel Sakra Cogen Plant, which will be ready by 2026, will be located in Sakra Avenue on Jurong Island along the coastline.

On Monday, the URA said in response to queries from The Straits Times that since the power plant needs to use large volumes of seawater for cooling, Keppel was required to carry out an EIA to study the potential impact on the marine environment only. The EIA was scoped in consultation with the relevant government agencies. 

As the existing vegetation was sparse, and of common and non-native species, certain land-based preparatory works such as tree felling and the construction of sites offices were allowed to proceed without an EIA. This is because the government agencies had assessed that they would not have a significant impact on the environment, the URA spokesman said. 

According to the EIA report, a total of 65 trees within the project’s area will be felled – 85 per cent of which are acacia trees, and 12 per cent, casuarina trees.

The URA spokesman said development works have not commenced, and such works will be allowed to proceed only after the EIA process has concluded and URA’s planning permission is obtained.

A Keppel spokesman said that “in consultation with government agencies on the EIA process, Keppel was not required to consult nature groups before public disclosure”.

However, all feedback from the public, including nature groups, will be considered before seeking final approval from the Government, the spokesman added.

Despite the clarification that the power plant will be built on a “largely brownfield site”, Nature Society (Singapore) spokesman Tony O’Dempsey pointed out that the chemical plant that previously stood there was demolished around 2016 to 2017.

This meant that there would have been sufficient time for the vegetation to regenerate, which would attract biodiversity such as birds.

Mr O’Dempsey said he felt that with the amount of vegetation there, there should have been at least a desktop – or research – study of the terrestrial habitat and corresponding mitigation measures in the Environmental Mitigation and Monitoring Plan. 

“Avian and reptilian fauna do not care if their habitat is made up of common or exotic vegetation. Even sparse grassland is habitat for the ground-nesting Savanna nightjar, a bird that is found throughout our Southern Islands,” he said.

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The Nature Society is currently engaging in further dialogues with Keppel and the National Parks Board (NParks), he added.

While the assessment concluded that wildlife, except for otters, is unlikely to occur in the project site, scientific literature suggests that other species, such as migratory birds, have not been accounted for.

A 2017 study found that various migratory bird species have been recorded colliding with windows at low-rise buildings near vegetated sites on Jurong Island.

Mr Ho Xiang Tian, co-founder of environmental advocacy group LepakInSG, noted from the EIA that hot water from the power plant will be discharged into the sea.

According to National Environment Agency guidelines, once the temperature of the sea exceeds 45 deg C, the plant will have to stop work immediately.

“It is unclear how the 45 deg C threshold was chosen, and no study has been done on whether this could impact marine biodiversity,” said Mr Ho.

Mr Muhammad Nasry, the executive director of the Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity, said that while he welcomes the new plant as it brings a cleaner energy source to Singapore, he felt that the “bare-bones nature” of the report was rather concerning.

Not all the plants were identified properly, with one simply being identified as a “palm tree”, he pointed out. “Palms are not trees, as any botanist will tell you – they are completely different types of plants. This indicates that the consultant does not have the required expertise,” he said.

Mr Nasry said the EIA should also have specified the power plant will be built on the former site of a chemical plant, instead of justifying the lack of wildlife surveys by saying it will be built on “reclaimed land”. 

In any case, he said, the assumption that reclaimed land is not able to support wildlife is an inaccurate one, with sites like Marina East being a haven for birdlife as shrubland tends to colonise reclaimed land relatively easily.

Mr Nasry is concerned that the Keppel EIA would set an unhealthy precedent for other EIAs. 

“While government agencies have had years of experience with EIAs, the private sector is still catching up. It is essential that they are given sufficient guidance and support to produce quality reports,” he said. 

“As it is, it is uncommon for private entities to publicly disclose such impacts, and I hope that fear of criticism does not deter other companies from doing the same in the future.”

Since early 2023, the EIA consultancy services for public development projects have been centralised under NParks, as part of efforts to strengthen the conservation of Singapore’s natural heritage. 

Asked if NParks will be looking to have EIAs done by private companies to be centralised by the agency as well, Mr Ryan Lee, its group director of the National Biodiversity Centre, said this was piloted for new Housing Board and JTC development projects requiring EIAs. He added that NParks will assess the results from the pilot before determining whether to expand this to all public development projects. 

On whether NParks will mandate that EIAs done by private companies adhere to a certain standard, Mr Lee said that as private developers are commercial entities, they would have the autonomy to choose their consultants for EIA purposes. 

“Notwithstanding this, private development projects are subjected to the same EIA framework and assessments by planning and technical agencies,” he added.

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