Best of our wild blogs: 26 Apr 18

StarHub, Sunseap offer Singapore consumers 100% solar power plans

Read more!

Shaping the future of Singapore’s heartlands

CHEONG KOON HEAN Today Online 25 Apr 18;

Amidst Singapore’s demographic changes, the threat of climate change, and trends such as Singaporeans increasingly working from home and turning to shopping online, how can public housing continue to evolve to better meet the needs of residents? Addressing this issue at an IPS-Nathan lecture on Monday (April 23), Housing and Development Board CEO Dr Cheong Koon Hean spelt out how Singapore’s largest developer plans, designs, harnesses technology and reaches out to the community to help build better homes for Singaporeans and to foster a stronger community spirit. Below is an excerpt of the lecture, the final in a series of three lectures.

Someone once told me that in Singapore, HDB flats are ‘like the air we breathe’.

They are so much a part of our life because more than 80 per cent of our residential population live in them.

Even if you do not live in an HDB flat, you would have used some of the amenities in an HDB town, be it to frequent the market or hawker centre, the neighbourhood shop or clinic.

The public housing programme implemented by the Housing & Development Board (HDB) over the last 57 years has provided affordable housing for the people of Singapore. By and large, HDB has provided a comfortable and convenient living environment for its residents.

Going forward, there will be trends that will impact our HDB towns.

So what are the considerations that will influence the way in which we should plan and build our towns?

In this lecture, I would like to focus on how HDB plans, designs, harnesses technology and reaches out to the community to help build better homes together.

Singaporeans are living longer and having fewer babies. By 2030, the number of Singaporeans aged 65 and above will double to 900,000, making up 25 per cent of the population, from just one in eight today.

The planning of towns and estates must consider the change in social composition and demographics.

We need to meet the continuum of needs of our residents as they age.

Our designs should include suitable accommodation for them, complemented by services that take care of their social well-being and healthcare needs so that they can age-in-place.

For example, elderly residents seeking independent living may now prefer to buy a smaller flat as it is easier to maintain.

These should be close to neighbourhood amenities and public transport for convenience, and be served by healthcare and elderly activity centres.

In terms of detail design, universal design principles should be applied within the flat and in public areas, so that mobility is not impeded.

We want to encourage and enable the elderly to be physically and mentally active in and outside their homes, so that they are not socially isolated.

As a small city state, Singapore is inevitably a high density environment. However, through innovative planning and design solutions, planners and architects can create ‘liveable density’ so as to continue to ensure a pleasant living environment.

Climate change is another phenomenon that we must consider in the formulation of our plans. Increased urbanisation and economic activities globally has led to higher carbon emissions and an upward trend in temperatures.

Since 1972, Singapore has experienced an increase in warm days and warm nights, and a decrease in cool days and cool nights. From 1980 to 2016, annual total rainfall rose at an average rate of 101 millimetres per decade.

It is projected that the intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall events will increase as the world gets warmer.

These climatic changes require us to plan and build in a more sustainable way.

Our buildings should be designed to reduce energy use and to encourage natural cooling rather than the use of air conditioning.

Today, HDB already uses renewable energy, such as energy generated from solar panels. There are opportunities to use less water and reduce waste, and to re-use and recycle whenever possible.

Innovative ways, such as the adoption of water sensitive urban design could be used to mitigate floods. We should strive to build greater resilience into our infrastructure.

Recognising that our towns will mature and age over time, HDB has already been carrying out extensive estate renewal and upgrading of several towns since the 1990s.

Where possible, the cycle of improvements and rejuvenation should continue, the pace of which will be subject to the availability of resources.

This will ensure that our towns remain a pleasant place to live, and municipal and estate services are well maintained.

We now have a much more diverse population as we begin to see more inter-ethnic and transnational marriages.

More new citizens have also joined us in recent decades. These trends will increase our diversity in culture, language and lifestyle.

The complexion of our estates will evolve organically with this change in social composition. We need to find ways to increase community connections so as to promote better understanding and social cohesion amongst residents in our towns.

The use of design and technology to encourage greater inclusivity and to facilitate social interactions becomes even more important. If we can do this successfully, it will help to create a cultural richness and a new definition of the community spirit.

At the same time, with increasing wealth and education, we are mindful that people do value their privacy and personal space more.

Whilst some may advocate the return of the traditional slab block and common corridor design to encourage more neighbourly encounters, the reality is that the majority of our residents prefer a building layout, which gives them more privacy.

Building the ‘Kampung Spirit’ will require new design interpretations.

More creative designs should strike a balance between building community and making available multiple layers of different spaces – a gradation of public, semi-public and private space.

More and more people are now connected through social media regardless of where they live. We can no longer define ‘neighbours’ by proximity and distance alone.

Whilst promoting neighbourly ties by physical design remain important, we need to recognise the presence and power of online communities.

By leveraging technology, virtual communities can nourish a sense of belonging and civic-mindedness, involving more people to shape and take greater ownership of the environment that they are living in.

Netizens with common interests can be brought together to enliven community life. A matching of skills to needs, and bringing together of residents with common interests across online communities, could also be constructive ways to engender a kampung spirit.


Technology and artificial intelligence (AI) will impact almost every aspect of the town, affecting the way we live, work, play and learn.

The nature of employment is likely to become more transient with the advent of the gig economy and new freelance jobs.

It was reported that in 2017, there are about 167,000 individuals in freelance work as their primary job.

More people will also turn to telecommuting and home offices to perform various jobs from the comfort of their home. These are potential considerations for future flat designs.

In fact, some 17,000 HDB flats already operate as home-offices today. How can we better support citizens in these new roles?

For example, we could provide more flexible living spaces that could accommodate suitable types of work that can be done in a home environment, supported by digital infrastructure.

As the home businesses grow, we could consider providing shared working spaces nearby in the neighbourhood or town centres which allow these businesses to expand into, and provide connectivity facilities and spaces for larger group meetings.

These spaces would encourage greater entrepreneurship and facilitate start-ups.

Our commercial complexes and shops in the heartlands serve an important social role.

They provide convenience and more affordable goods and services for residents. Entrepreneurs just starting out can find more affordable rentals within the heartland shops.

Many of the shops serve as social nodes, particularly the coffee shops where people meet over a cuppa. Residents enjoy familiarity with the shop keepers unlike larger shopping malls with chain stores.

At the same time, omni-channel shopping has been growing in popularity. Some have projected that by 2028, the e-commerce market will grow by more than five times, it would be worth up to S$7.5 billion, and make up 6.7 per cent of all retail in Singapore.

HDB shops need to evolve to cater to the changing shopping preferences of consumers. We could rethink the design of our HDB commercial centres towards a more ‘experiential’ focus, to attract footfall. In terms of trade mix, more personalised services could be introduced.

For example, Nespresso provides a personalised coffee experience by baristas at a tasting bar.

With online shopping, the design of neighbourhoods should be more delivery-friendly. This could mean providing more drop-off and parcel collection points for each block and precinct.

The potential introduction of autonomous vehicles will also impact the way we plan our towns for commute. The Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) push towards a car-lite environment and the introduction of autonomous buses require us to rethink the road system in our towns.

For example, priority may be given to bus transit corridors while reducing the number of lanes for cars. Many of our multi-storey car parks could be repurposed or redeveloped, should car ownership fall.


HDB ramped up its building programme from 2010 onwards to meet the surge in demand for public housing.

Between 2010 and 2017, we launched about 167,000 units of flats. This is equivalent to about five Toa Payoh towns, all launched within the short span of eight years.

This is a massive building programme. However, it provided a golden opportunity for HDB to develop a new generation of public housing that would take into consideration the various trends I highlighted above.

Rather than just doing more of the same, we wanted to refresh our public housing towns and developments so that they will meet the changing lifestyle needs and rising aspirations of our people.

In 2011, we launched the HDB Roadmap to Better Living, which will guide our large development programme over the next few decades. The goal is to build well-designed and community centric towns which are sustainable and smart. Let me share how this roadmap will impact the future of Heartland Living.

Thrust 1: Well-designed towns

HDB does not only build housing. As a master planner and developer, HDB is in the business of developing entire townships.

Over the years, the physical planning of HDB towns has evolved in tandem with the changing socio-economic and demographic conditions of Singapore.

With the ramp-up of our building programme since 2010, we have had the opportunity to formulate several new master plans for areas such as Punggol North, Bidadari, Tampines North and Tengah.

These plans have incorporated new fresh ideas, including the following:

1.1) More distinctive neighbourhoods and districts

HDB aims to create more distinctive identities for a new generation of towns in green field sites and in larger areas of older estates that will undergo redevelopment and rejuvenation. Building ‘identity’ can help us to better root residents to home and community. In our planning, we capitalise on ‘heritage and place character’ to safeguard social memories and to create a stronger sense of belonging.

1.2) Living in Green to mitigate high densities

Our homes will be nestled within a garden as we introduce more tropical green and blue water elements in our planning and design.

These elements provide the green lungs and recreational spaces to relieve urban density.

More blue elements, such as ponds and streams, will be weaved in with the landscaping – these elements will be multi-functional, serving to collect storm water, and provide aesthetic and recreational features for the towns.

1.3) Develop New Building Typologies and Layouts

We have adopted new building typologies and flat layouts to meet changing lifestyle needs, providing variety and choice, as well as adding interesting features to the townscape.

In addition to the traditional tower and slab blocks, we have introduced typologies such as courtyard housing, terraced housing, housing with decked roof gardens, etc.

Sky gardens and terraces will also be selectively introduced to provide residents with more spaces to relax and to interact.

The interior of the flat unit is also undergoing change to meet new lifestyle needs and trends. Kitchen walls have recently been done away with as many young couples prefer open kitchens. Columns are pushed to the sides wherever possible so that residents can have more flexibility in reconfiguring their flat layout.

All these improvements enable residents to stamp their flat’s interior with their very own personality.

1.4) A car-lite environment

In line with national efforts, HDB also aims to develop a ‘car-lite’ environment by encouraging the use of public transport. Almost all our towns are well served by a rail network and well connected bus routes to encourage the use of public transport.

Recognising that some may still need to use a car occasionally, LTA has worked with HDB to launch the national Electric Vehicle Car-Sharing Programme in 2017 where 1,000 cars supplied by BlueSG are being deployed in stages for our residents’ use.

In addition, MOT/ LTA are exploring a pilot deployment of Autonomous Vehicles as a form of public transport in Punggol and Tengah towns as well as in the Jurong Innovation District from 2022.

To promote the use of alternative modes of transport, comprehensive cycling networks are being weaved into HDB towns to encourage cycling and the use of personal mobility devices. The cycling network will also link to parks and park connectors.

Towns will be planned to be even more pedestrian-friendly with conveniently connected footpaths, covered link ways, and second storey connections where appropriate, which connect precincts and also lead directly to the aboveground MRT/ LRT stations.

2) Designing an Environment for All Ages

Today, HDB already adopts universal design principles – to ensure that the built environment is usable and accessible to everyone, regardless of age and physical ability.

All new flats come with no steps, toilets that can accommodate a wheelchair, and rocker switches which are suitable for the elderly.

All existing towns have been retrofitted with ramps to facilitate wheelchair mobility. Through the Lift Upgrading Programme, a majority of flats have access to a lift on every floor.

HDB has actively looked into special housing typologies that are more tailored to elderly needs. Today, a range of housing choices are available for our elderly.

3) Creating Synergies from Integrated Developments

HDB has been co-locating our residential blocks with smaller, compatible facilities such as precinct shops, childcare centres, active ageing hubs, and other social services.

However, as integrated developments can yield greater convenience and potential synergies between mixed uses, HDB will consider building larger integrated developments where appropriate.

Thrust 2: Community-centric towns

Beyond being just a provider of homes, HDB also builds active and cohesive communities anchored on the three pillars of ‘software, hardware and heartware’.

Software – To foster social cohesion, the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) has been a key policy pillar on which we have managed to maintain a good ethnic mix in HDB estates for racial integration and harmony.

In recent years, we have introduced the Singapore Permanent Resident (SPR) Quota which was layered over the EIP to facilitate better integration of SPR households in public housing estates.

Hardware – With the community in mind, HDB plans and designs shared spaces and facilities such as civic plazas, void decks and community living rooms, common green spaces and even 3-generation playgrounds to encourage the mixing of different age groups.

In addition, we have different flat types for each precinct and block to encourage a more socially inclusive environment.

HDB estates host a wealth of spaces where residents get to meet their neighbours incidentally (i.e. unplanned) and convivially (i.e. planned).

In a HDB-NUS study in 2014, it was found that HDB lift lobbies and void decks are conducive spaces for interaction, followed by coffee shops and retail shops.

There was positive correlation between amenities usage and a sense of attachment and belonging.

Therefore, well-planned and designed spaces and amenities are critical, as residents who reported a higher level of amenities usage also reported a higher sense of attachment and belonging to their community.

In the design of its new generation towns, HDB has increased the provision of more social and communal places to encourage interaction.

These include large town plazas for larger group activities, various roof and sky rise gardens and community living rooms for smaller groups of residents.

Heartware – The Heartware, comprising people and community, is what makes a town and place endearing to its residents. In the past five years, HDB has stepped up community-building efforts by organising activities such as Welcome Parties and HDB’s Good Neighbours Awards.

Based on HDB’s Sample Household Survey 2013, some 98 per cent of the residents gave feedback that they feel a sense of belonging to their town. More than 85 per cent of residents interacted with neighbours of other ethnic groups and nationalities. There is also increasing participation in community activities.

HDB continues to build on these positive trends by encouraging more citizen participation. We would like our residents to play an active role in shaping their environment and to take greater ownership in caring for their town and to contribute to building up their community.

HDB therefore has many programmes to encourage greater citizen participation.

First, HDB works to nurture change makers. They help to promote the spirit of neighbourliness and eco-friendly living in the HDB estates. For example, we have ‘ambassadors’ comprising students from schools and retirees who volunteer and help spread the eco-living messages to residents.

Some of our volunteers may also initiate activities that add liveliness to places like civic plazas, and foster care and neighbourly relations through organised activities.

Other volunteers facilitate community conversations to build consensus on local development and rejuvenation plans.

For example, our resident volunteers and student facilitators from the tertiary institutions help to lead focus group sessions with our residents on how to improve their living environment.

Residents are often invited to help co-create places in their estates. One interesting project was the development of a ‘Social Linkway’ along a pedestrian corridor at Tampines that was very well used by residents as it leads to their neighbourhood centre.

Pop-up stations were set up along the corridor to gather ideas and inputs from residents who were making their way to the neighbourhood centre. Not only did the residents contribute ideas, they helped to implement several interesting activity nodes – one was for a neighbourhood incubator and others for play and learning. There is also an art link with artwork and murals contributed by the residents themselves.

To support ground-up ideas, HDB introduced a ‘Friendly Faces, Lively Places Fund’ in 2017. Residents are encouraged to draw on this fund to organise events together with their neighbours and the community

HDB also makes a point to consult the public on its plans. Numerous focus group discussions and exhibitions are held to gather ideas and suggestions for many of our plans before they are formulated or finalised.

Thrust 3: Sustainable and smart towns

As the largest housing developer in Singapore, HDB will play its part as a responsible developer to build sustainable towns.

Economic sustainability strategies focus on creating economic vibrancy and business diversity through the provision of innovative commercial facilities within the towns.

Environmental sustainability strategies are wide-ranging and include reducing carbon emissions, optimising the use of resources and achieving effective energy, water and waste management.

These will provide a clean, safe, healthy and comfortable living environment for our residents. Active research is being carried out by HDB in multiple areas on sustainability initiatives.

Mean sea level rise, particularly where it coincides with high tides, presents a risk of coastal inundation of buildings, infrastructure and assets.

Various coastal adaptation measures are already being studied by multiple agencies, such as permanent and demountable floodwalls, earth bunds, and flood gates with pumping stations.

Not many people are aware that HDB is one of the largest reclamation agencies in Singapore, having reclaimed much of the land in Singapore.

HDB would raise the minimum platform levels of reclaimed land to PUB’s prevailing codes to anticipate future sea level rise.

To cater to a rise in annual total rainfall, HDB has updated its design requirements to cater for this and reviewed its drainage requirements for all new projects.

HDB is also building up a deeper understanding of climate change issues. For example, it is carrying out research in the use of Urban Water Modelling to simulate water flow and flooding in typical and extreme rainfall conditions so that we can better optimise our water sensitive urban design, and detention and retention features to mitigate flood risks.


In line with Singapore’s aspirations to become a Smart Nation, HDB will tap on significant innovations in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to develop smarter HDB towns – making them more liveable, efficient, sustainable and safe.

(a) Smart Planning

Increasingly, HDB is using sophisticated state-of-the-art computer simulations and data analytics to improve the way we design and plan our towns, precincts and buildings. Collaborating with other agencies such as National Research Foundation (NRF), Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), a 3-dimensional city model called Virtual Singapore has been developed which enables HDB to carry out applications like environmental modelling.

Using various computer models, the effects of sun, wind and noise can be simulated virtually so that we can improve our plans before actual development. For example, we could improve the placement and orientation of buildings to channel wind flow through the town to create a cooling effect and to improve air quality.

More greenery could also be introduced at hot spots to reduce heat build-up.

(b) Smart Environment

HDB is leveraging sensors to capture real time information about the environment, such as temperature and humidity.

Environmental data collected can be used to validate environmental models and carry out proactive upgrading of infrastructure in response to changing weather conditions in order to create a more pleasant environment for residents.

c) Smart Estate

Using ICT, we can monitor various estate services such as lighting, pumps, solar panels and lifts to better manage the services within the town.

HDB has developed a Smart Hub which will serve as a central repository of information received from these sensors, so that data analytics can be carried out to improve the performance and reliability of these services.

With artificial intelligence, predictive studies can also be carried out. Such data analytics could facilitate pro-active detection and intervention to minimise disruption to services.

HDB is also looking into the use of drone technology for fa├žade inspections. Working with the Town Councils, it will enable timely repairs to be made.

d) Smart Living

HDB is building ‘smart-enabled’ homes in our test beds so that residents can benefit from the various smart home applications provided by commercial companies. Such applications include the Elderly Monitoring and Utility Management Systems.

e) Smart Community

With the collection of data and opinion surveys on demographics, social trends, and lifestyle preferences, HDB would be able to better understand residents’ needs and preferences. Suitable applications can be developed to bring communities closer together and empower residents to take greater ownership of their environment, such as in the way common spaces are designed. Data can also be used to nudge residents with gamification tools to help promote eco living lifestyles.

HDB is mindful that its research cannot be limited to only technology and engineering solutions. To have a better understanding of societal needs and human behaviour, its research would include social and behavioural studies, which can then better inform HDB of its policy and spatial solutions.

Hence, HDB has recently linked up with the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to carry out an extensive research programme called the New Urban Kampung Programme. The findings from this research programme will help to steer HDB in its planning and design of the HDB towns.

Using a combination of data from traditional surveys, from sensor networks placed around the estate and through engaging the community on and offline, we can better understand our resident’s preferences and formulate more targeted improvements in our towns.

For example, residents may now place thermal comfort, access to amenities and urban greenery at higher priority.

HDB’s designs should take these preferences into consideration. Sensors that identify patterns of movement can help HDB to identify under-utilised spaces and to fine-tune the design of these spaces to encourage higher usage.

The design of void decks can hence be improved to foster interaction.

Even as we develop a new generation of public housing, HDB has continued to upgrade our older towns/estates to keep them functional and pleasant to live in. HDB therefore has been ‘age-proofing’ its towns and flats since the 1990s through multiple upgrading programmes.

Our HDB towns will continue to be at the heart of Singapore living.

HDB has a huge task to develop and maintain an environment that will enable our people to live comfortably and to build families and friendships.

Planners and architects will need to draw on their creativity and resourcefulness to develop liveable environments within available land and resources.

HDB will also look to technology to set the stage for new urban solutions.

Today, in partnership with communities and residents, HDB is developing many exciting plans for our estates.

We know that HDB estates are not only about the physical buildings and infrastructure.

Our plans are only fully realised when they become homes for our communities and families. Our residents therefore play a very important role as they have a great impact on the living environment too.

They greatly influence the towns and neighbourhoods through their civic actions and consideration for neighbours, and their sense of ownership by caring for both their home and the surrounding environs.

HDB needs a strong partnership with Singaporeans to build a good home together.

Read more!

Sizzling competition, ‘encouraging’ sign-ups as electricity market opens up in Jurong

Nearly a month since the roll-out of the Open Electricity Market in Jurong, retailers have cut prices, doled out steeper discounts and freebies to entice consumers who are, for the first time, given the option to buy electricity from a retailer of their choice.
Tang See Kit Channel NewsAsia 26 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: Within days after electricity retailers were allowed to begin marketing their services to residents in Jurong, Mr Wang Zhili made up his mind to sign up with independent provider Ohm Energy.

Likening the liberalisation of the retail electricity market to the opening up of the local telecoms market years ago, the 30-year-old said he is “happy” about having the option to pick a power provider with the best deal. Currently, households buy electricity solely from SP Group at a regulated tariff that is reviewed quarterly.

“Electricity is a key part of a household bill. If there is a chance to go for a cheaper price plan, why not?”

With his new 12-month plan charging 16.95 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), almost 5 cents lower than SP Group’s current electricity tariffs, Mr Wang is expecting a much leaner bill from this month.

Mr Wang is among those living in Jurong who are included in the pilot launch of the Open Electricity Market – an initiative by the Government to open up the power market to competition.

From Apr 1, about 108,000 household and 9,500 business accounts in Jurong have been allowed to go shopping for electricity retailers other than SP Group. For the soft launch, 14 players, which consisted a fair mix of big firms with power generation arms and independent retailers, were approved and given the green light to start marketing on Mar 19.

Since then, the response has been “encouraging”, according to retailers that Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Among those willing to reveal sign-up rates, PacificLight Energy has attracted more than 1,200 customers, while both Tuas Power Supply and Best Electricity Supply said they are fast approaching 1,000 sign-ups.

Ohm Energy said it has about 800 consumers on board. Solar energy firm Sunseap and Red Dot Power described their sign-ups thus far as “a three-digit figure”.

Other retailers declined to reveal figures citing commercial sensitivity, but they agreed that consumers seem to be warming up to the idea of a liberalised retail electricity market faster than they expected.

“Electricity is something that’s not the easiest thing to explain. There will be customers who hesitate but thus far, what we’ve seen has been encouraging,” said Mr Low Boon Tong, executive vice president of retail at Seraya Energy.

Describing the response over the past few weeks as “enthusiastic”, iSwitch’s spokesperson Ross Han said: “Other foreign markets, like Australia or the United Kingdom, took a much longer time to get started so we are happy.”

When contacted, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) declined to reveal the number of consumers in Jurong that have opted for a different retailer thus far. Its spokesperson said based on feedback from participating retailers, “the response has been encouraging”.


But with 14 retailers approved from the get-go, competition has been sizzling since the soft launch began.

To entice consumers, a majority have adjusted their plans in the form of price cuts, steeper discounts and rolling out shorter-duration contracts.

Plenty of freebies were also doled out. When Channel NewsAsia visited a roadshow organised by the EMA over the weekend at Westgate mall, iPads, the latest Google Home Mini smart speakers, shopping vouchers and air tickets were among the rewards dangled out.

PacificLight Energy, for instance, reduced the price of its fixed price plan to 16.78 cents per kWh, from the initial 19.19 cents. It also more than doubled the discount for one of its plans to 21 per cent. Apart from the chance of winning a free trip to Hong Kong, the first 100 customers who sign up before the end of this month will get S$80 off their third month’s bill. Customers who opt for e-billing also get S$1 off.

Commenting on the adjustments and wide variety of promotions, its general manager Geraldine Tan said: “This soft launch is for us to discover what works and what doesn’t for consumers. We monitor the market closely and if need be, we will introduce promotions and price changes.”

Over at Best Electricity Supply, cash rebates have been dished out on top of lowering the rate of its fixed-price plan to below 17 cents per kWh and increasing discounts for another plan.

“This is in response to the price cuts by other competitors,” said its general manager Terence Neo. “Jurong is only that big and there are 14 retailers. Competition is definitely heating up.”

Tuas Power Supply unveiled a three-month trial plan – a move that it said aims to “help consumers overcome the hurdle of trying something new”, according to its general manager Michael Wong.

“According to feedback, there are customers who are not comfortable with a long-term contract of one or two years so we came up with a three-month trial. With this, they don’t need to think too hard before taking the first step,” said Mr Wong.

But there are retailers who have chosen to stay put.

Mr Lawrence Kwan, vice president of energy at Sunseap, said prices of its clean energy plans “are already at their most competitive”.

“We don’t believe in having a price war because the premium is all about allowing Singaporeans to have access to clean energy and being environmentally responsible.”


For some residents, the discounts and freebies being dangled out have been a steal.

Mr Chang Chi Weng, 40, had set his sights on getting a fixed-price plan “to counter the uncertain market conditions” that sway the electricity tariffs charged by SP Group. Noting that the price cuts have brought all retailers to “roughly the same price point”, the engineer considered other factors, such as the ease of conversion and additional discounts, before deciding on PacificLight Energy.

“They were having a promotion of S$80 off my third month’s bill. That’s a practical thing that any consumer would consider,” said the resident of Jurong East.

Nonetheless, there are others who prefer to wait and see.

Ms Mabel Lee, who visited the EMA roadshow on Saturday, said the presence of 14 retailers and the buffet of price plans have been “overwhelming”.

“There are too many plans with different rates. You also need to look through the fine prints to see which ones require a security deposit or have hidden costs,” said the mother of three. “Even with the discounts, we still think we should do more research on our own so that we pick the correct plan and don’t lose out in the long term.”

There are also residents who remain clueless about the Open Electricity Market.

29-year-old Charmaine Teo said while she has seen posters about the soft launch, she knew little about it. “Maybe when more people sign up then I'll start thinking about it.”

Another Jurong East resident who preferred to be known as Mr Chua said he was more than happy to remain with SP Group as the new initiative “sounds complicated”. He also wondered if a change in retailer would affect his electricity supply.

To that, while retailers agreed there are still gaps in consumer awareness, almost all said they would not be too worried just yet.

Said Mr Jomar Eldoy, managing director of Ohm Energy: “Electricity is not something that most people pay attention to so it takes a while to realise that no matter who you buy from, the quality remains the same as the power grid continues to be operated by SP Group.”

“Market reach is a challenge as it takes some time for people to notice the change and when they do realise that they have the option of not just SP Group, they find themselves having to sieve through 14 retailers. But we believe that this deluge of information that’s keeping out some people is something that will solve by itself over time,” said iSwitch’s Mr Han.

Others, like Sembcorp Utilities, said it will continue to have roadshows in Jurong to “help educate” residents about the Open Electricity Market.

In response to queries, EMA said it is aware of questions that consumers may have, such as the reliability of electricity supply when they switch retailers, and have been addressing these concerns through its educational materials, such as information booklets and flyers.

“We will continue to refine and improve our public communications and consumer education efforts based on the feedback from the roadshow,” the spokesperson said.


For the rest of Singapore, the full roll-out of the Open Electricity Market is slated for the second half of this year.

Most retailers participating in the soft launch told Channel NewsAsia that they have started preparing for that but still hope for some clarity soon. They also expect more players to enter the market in the upcoming months when that happens.

Agreeing, Mr Allan Loi, a research associate at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS), noted that price cuts could intensify moving forward “as new entrants attempt to grab market share”.

But in the long run, retailers will need to differentiate themselves based on product and service innovation.

“If you look at the EMA website, there are 33 licensed retailers. Clearly, there are players that have not participated in the Jurong pilot scheme but could enter the market when the contestability is rolled out to the rest of Singapore,” said Mr Loi.

Raising the example of how there are more than 90 power suppliers in a smaller market like New Zealand, Mr Loi added: “How the Singapore market matures will depend on whether consumers are willing to embrace a lifestyle change in terms of energy use and how retailers market their plans moving forward. Instead of price, they will need to offer some sort of differentiated product for consumers.”

Source: CNA/sk

Read more!

MPA awards S$1.46b deal for Phase 2 of mega Tuas Terminal

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 25 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE — More than three years after work on the first phase of the mega Tuas Terminal began, the authorities have awarded a billion-dollar reclamation project for the next phase to a joint venture made up of contractors from Japan, South Korea and the Netherlands.

A consortium comprising Japan’s Penta-Ocean Construction Company, South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering & Construction Company and the Netherlands-based Boskalis International has bagged the S$1.46 billion project, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) announced on Wednesday (April 25).

Works on the first phase, which began in February 2015, were awarded to a joint venture comprising Belgium’s Dredging International Asia Pacific, and Daelim from South Korea.

The first phase, which involves dredging the waters, constructing wharves and reclaiming 294 hectares of land, is set to be completed by the early 2020s.

As of last month, more than 70 per cent of the 221 caissons — watertight retaining structures — had been installed to form the wharves.

The second phase of the mega development — which spans four phases — will see the Tuas Basin being dredged, wharf structures erected and 387 hectares of land reclaimed.

When ready in the mid-2020s, the 21 deep-water berths in this phase can handle about 21 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) yearly. TEU is a measure of a container terminal’s capacity.
The Tuas Terminal, set to be completed in the 2040s, will have a total capacity of up to 65 million TEUs.
The MPA said the scale and complexity of the project — which is part of the Republic’s efforts to consolidate its port activities in Tuas — gave the authority as well as local and international engineers and contractors the opportunity to not only challenge themselves, but also find innovative solutions to maximise productivity and efficiency.

One challenge is in constructing the wharf structure, which will see engineers use an innovative design to fabricate some of the largest caissons worldwide on site, said the MPA.

Banking on caissons is more efficient than other methods such as piling, and it also affords crew a safer work environment. “As the caissons are of standard sizes and pre-fabricated in a factory-like environment on site, productivity and quality of the wharf structures will be improved,” the MPA added.

The deal was among seven agreements announced on Wednesday at the two-day Singapore Maritime Technology Conference at Marina Bay Sands.

The other agreements include the MPA’s partnership with Keppel Offshore and Marine, and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore to develop autonomous vessels capable of carrying out harbour operations, such as berthing and mooring.

The MPA also awarded the Maritime Innovation and Technology Fund to Singapore Technologies (ST) Electronics, the electronics arm of government-linked group ST Engineering, and Norway’s Kongsberg Norcontrol to develop a next-generation vessel traffic management system innovation programme. The consortium will invest up to S$9.9 million over three years to develop capabilities, including new decision-support tools such as those that analyse vessel routes, predict traffic hotspots and detect potential collision situations.

Contract for Tuas Terminal Phase II worth S$1.46b awarded to international consortium
Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: A S$1.46 billion contract for the Tuas Terminal Phase 2 development project has been awarded to an international consortium.

A statement from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) announced on Wednesday (Apr 25) that it signed the agreement with Penta Ocean Construction, Hyundai Engineering & Construction and Boskalis International.

With Phase 1 well underway, this second phase of development will increase the total port capacity by another 21 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per annum by 2027, MPA said.

The statement said works under Phase II include the design and construction of 387 hectares of reclaimed land bounded by 9.1km of caisson walls.

"The latest innovations and technologies, such as E-cranes and reclaimer barges, will be employed to maximise the use of dredged materials for filling above sea level," MPA said.

When fully developed by the 2040s, Tuas Terminal will be able to handle up to 65 million TEUs annually.

It was one of seven agreements signed at the Singapore Maritime Technology Conference.

These included a partnership between MPA, Keppel Offshore & Marine and the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore to jointly develop autonomous vessels capable of undertaking harbour operations such as channelling, berthing, mooring and towing, for safer, more efficient and more cost effective operations.

Under another agreement, the consortium comprising ST Electronics and Kongsberg Norcontrol of Norway will be working on the Next Generation Vessel Traffic Management System Innovation Programme (NVGTMS).

Mr Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of MPA, said: “We are glad to have like-minded partners who strongly believe in the importance of digitalisation, technology and innovation. These MOUs will help us to take the maritime sector to a new level of development in areas such as automation, data analytics, intelligent systems and cybersecurity."

Source: CNA/ms

Read more!

Man jailed for smuggling 22 live star tortoises

Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: A 50-year-old man was on Wednesday (Apr 25) sentenced to one month's jail for smuggling 22 live star tortoises into Singapore.

Khalid Awad Bamadhaj was caught at Woodlands Checkpoint on Jun 23, 2016.

The tortoises were found in a cloth bag which was placed in the car boot together with bags of groceries, said the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) in a joint news release.

The reptiles were Indian star tortoises, a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). They are not allowed to be kept as pets.

Authorities said investigations showed that Khalid did not have a permit to import the tortoises, which he had intended to keep as pets. The tortoises are now under the care of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, according to the joint news release.

A charge of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to animals was taken into consideration during sentencing.

"Travellers are reminded not to import or keep wild animals as pets as demand for such animals would fuel illegal wildlife trade," said authorities in their joint news release. "Wildlife are not suitable pets as some may transmit zoonotic diseases to humans and pose a public safety risk if mishandled or if they escape into our dense urban environment."

Source: CNA/na/(gs)

Read more!

Man involved in foiled attempt to smuggle 121 live birds jailed 8 months

Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: A 30-year-old man was sentenced to eight months' jail for his involvement in a failed attempt to smuggle 121 live birds into Singapore, including Fischer’s Lovebirds, a protected species.

Sudrak Naum was caught on Feb 26 after Immigration & Checkpoints Authority officers found 121 live birds in 10 boxes in a Malaysian-registered tour bus driven by him, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore said on Wednesday (Apr 25).

The birds were concealed in a compartment between the driver and front right tyre.

AVA added that the poor conditions the birds were transported under "caused them unnecessary pain and suffering".

Eight birds were found dead on arrival and more have since died.

Sudrak was sentenced to five months' jail for abetting the import of 44 Fischer’s Lovebirds, a species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), without a permit.

He was also sentenced to another three months' jail for abetting animal cruelty. Another sentence of three month’s jail for abetting the illegal import of 77 live birds will run concurrently.

Investigations revealed that another man travelling with Sudrak had been commissioned to smuggle the birds to an unknown person in Singapore. The man has since fled Singapore.

AVA said that animals smuggled into Singapore may introduce diseases, such as bird flu, into the country.

Anyone found guilty of importing birds and animals without a licence is liable to a fine of up to S$10,000, or imprisonment of up to one year, or both.

In addition, those who are caught importing, exporting or re-exporting CITES species without permits can be fined up to S$50,000 per species (not exceeding a maximum aggregate of S$500,000) and/or face imprisonment of up to two years upon conviction.

Anyone who causes unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal will be liable upon conviction to a fine of up to S$15,000, or imprisonment of up to 18 months, or both.

Source: CNA/aa

Read more!

Toxic waste company Cramoil to be charged for discharging hazardous substances into public sewers

Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: Toxic industrial waste collection company Cramoil Singapore will be charged for discharging wastewater with hazardous substances into public sewers, said national water agency PUB in a media release on Wednesday (Apr 25).

It has also been issued a stop-order, meaning the company can no longer discharge used industrial water from its premises into the public sewage system.

This is the first time that PUB has issued such an order. It was served to Cramoil Singapore managing director Tan Kim Seng on Monday and took effect immediately.

PUB said the company was on Apr 15 caught in the act of discharging industrial used water containing hazardous Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), like benzene and heptane, into the public sewer at its premises at 4 Tuas View Lane.

Tests found that the industrial used water discharged contained 16 different types of prohibited VOCs, said PUB.

"The concentration levels were dangerously high. At these levels, the VOCs can cause fires in the sewer pipeline and downstream Jurong Water Reclamation Plant," it added.

In addition, five kinds of metals and chemicals in concentrations that exceeded the permitted limits were found, said PUB, adding that the toxic substances pose a threat to workers maintaining the public sewerage system. It can also "upset the used water treatment process," the agency added.

In its overnight checks, PUB also found that Cramoil's used water sampler to monitor industrial used water waste had been tampered with.

This is not the first time that the company has landed in hot water. Since 2010, the company had committed 20 offences of discharging toxic wastewater into the public sewer. The company has been fined a total of S$52,500.

If found guilty of the latest offence, Cramoil Singapore could be fined up to S$100,000.

"PUB does not condone any blatant disregard of our regulations on illegal discharge of trade effluent, and anyone who willfully causes harm and danger to our public sewerage system," said PUB's director of water reclamation network Maurice Neo.

The stop-order will be in place until PUB is satisfied with the measures the company must put in place within a month of the order.

These measures include having adequate treatment facilities, a quality monitoring system, as well as CCTVs to monitor treatment facilities and the colour of its trade effluent discharge.

Source: CNA/aa/(gs)

PUB issues stop-work notice for company which illegally discharged dangerous chemicals into public sewer
Today Online 25 Apr 18;

Cramoil Singapore, a repeat offender, is the first company here to be issued a stop-work notice

SINGAPORE — A toxic industrial waste collection company was on Monday (April 23) served with a stop-work notice by the PUB, after it was caught illegally releasing effluent containing dangerous chemicals — some of which are flammable — into public sewers on April 15.

The PUB said in a news release on Wednesday (April 25) that Cramoil Singapore Pte Ltd is the first company in Singapore to be issued the stop-work notice, which bars it from discharging any used water from its premises into the public sewer.

With the injunction, Cramoil must put in place specific measures within a month to treat its trade effluent, which contains dangerous or hazardous substances.

These include putting in place adequate treatment facilities, a quality monitoring system, closed-circuit televisions to monitor these treatment facilities and the colour of its trade effluent discharge, as well as rectifying its automatic used water sampler which had been tampered with, the PUB added.

This was also not the company's first offence, the agency added, having been fined for 20 similar offences since 2010.

The PUB said on Wednesday that it will be pressing charges against the company, under the Sewerage and Drainage Act, for illegally discharging trade effluent containing dangerous or hazardous substances into a public sewer.

If convicted, the company could be slapped with a fine of up to S$100,000, as it is a repeat offender.

Cramoil was busted during PUB's overnight operations.

The industrial used water discharged from its premises contained 16 different types of prohibited volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many of them in dangerously high concentrations.

Some of these prohibited VOCs include Tetrahydrofuran, used as an industrial solvent; Hexane, which are used industrially for the formulation of glues for shoes, leather products, and roofing; as well as Methylene Chloride, also used as a solvent.

"At these levels, the VOCs can cause fires in the sewer pipeline and downstream Jurong Water Reclamation Plant," the PUB said.

Tests done on Cramoil's discharge also showed the presence of five kinds of metals and chemicals in concentrations that exceeded allowable limits.

"These toxic substances pose a danger to workers operating and maintaining the public sewerage system and can upset the used water treatment process," the agency said on Wednesday.

Read more!

Indonesia does not rule out retaliating if 'cornered' by EU on palm oil

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 25 Apr 18;

JAKARTA - Indonesia has not ruled out retaliating if it is "cornered" by the European Union which is considering banning the use of palm oil in biofuels.

Indonesia is the world's largest exporter of palm oil and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Pandjaitan, who is close to President Joko Widodo, was in Brussels earlier this week for talks on the issue.

He condemned the proposed ban as discriminatory, saying that the EU should look closely at the progress made by Indonesia in addressing the environmental challenges associated with the planting of palm oil.

"We have no plan yet to shift orders to Boeing. Taking retaliatory action is not our culture. We want to continue negotiating to find a good solution for everyone, but they should not continue to corner us," Mr Luhut was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his ministry on Wednesday (Apr 25).

Indonesia's state owned carrier, Garuda, and other private airlines such as Lion Air had been buying planes from the US manufacturer, Boeing, as well as from its European rival, Airbus, Mr Luhut said.

The minister added that Indonesia would need a total of 2,500 planes in the next 20 years and was also considering ordering Airbus M400 military planes that the French-based company offered to him recently.

Mr Luhut also warned about the ramifications of a ban on palm oil on his country.

He said the industry had kept 10 million people out of poverty and a ban would hit smallholder farmers hard, sending many back to the poverty line.

"A number of those who committed radical acts were those who were economically unfortunate and what we fear is that if there are more people below the poverty line, that would further increase the chances of people falling into radicalism," Mr Luhut said.

"With all due respect, we have succeeded in maintaining regional security and radicalism and terrorist attacks have shown a declining trend.

"Prevention is vital," he added.

Palm oil has long been controversial because environmentalists charge that it drives deforestation, with huge swathes of rainforest logged in recent decades to make way for plantations.

The use of the commodity in food and cosmetics has already dropped in Europe, partly due to pressure from green groups on major corporations, but has been increasing in biofuels.

Alarmed by the choking haze that enveloped the region following fires on vast swathes of oil palm and pulp wood plantations in 2015, Indonesia began a crackdown on errant corporations and individuals who resort to cheap-but-illegal slash-and-burn methods to clear plantation land. Together with better fire prevention measures, the number of hotspots has dropped in recent years.

Mr Luhut advised his counterparts from the EU to visit Indonesia and check the ground situation themselves.

"Some of the key individuals I met apparently were not adequately informed about the progress Indonesia has made. They did not know our economic progress, security situation and the fact that Indonesia is doing environmental work," Mr Luhut said.

Indonesia and Malaysia produce nearly 90 per cent of the world's palm oil and both will be hit hard by a EU ban.

Indonesia produced 29 million tonnes of the commodity last year (2017) while Malaysia's output was 19.5 million tonnes. Oil palm plantations in Indonesia covered 11.7 million ha at the end of 2017 and in Malaysia they covered 4.49 million ha.

In Indonesia, the industry directly employs almost 6 million workers and annually generates US$20 billion (S$26.14 billion) in export earnings. A Malaysian official has said an EU ban threatens the income of some 500,000 planters across the country.

Read more!

Asian Games to boost Indonesia's war on forest fires : official

Michael Taylor Reuters 24 Apr 18;

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesia’s choking annual haze will be limited this year by the pressure of hosting the Asian Games and a new approach to preventing forest fires, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Every dry season - usually from June until October - large parts of Southeast Asia are shrouded in pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesia, many set deliberately to clear land for pulp and paper and palm oil plantations.

Indonesia’s government switched focus from containment to prevention after a particularly bad outbreak in 2015 that cost the country $16 billion and caused more than 500,000 people to come down with respiratory ailments.

“Before 2015 it was all about suppressing the fires, but now it’s about prevention,” said Raffles Panjaitan, director of forest and land fire management at the forestry ministry.

The spotlight on Indonesia as it hosts the 2018 Asian Games from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 makes it all the more important to tackle the problem, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If the haze comes, then aeroplanes cannot get through and land, which will stop the athletes,” he said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit in Yogyakarta, on the Indonesian island of Java.

“It’s important for us,” he said of the Games, which will be co-hosted by the Sumatran city of Palembang and Jakarta.

Over the last three years, Indonesia has introduced a range of new policies including educating and training communities in fire prevention and setting up a Peatland Restoration Agency to tackle fires and protect peatland, said Panjaitan.

Peatlands - made up of partially decayed vegetation, typically saturated with water - hold huge amounts of carbon, and are important habitats for endangered species, like tigers, according to the campaign group Greenpeace.

It has drafted in the military, built early warning towers and organized patrols to monitor the burning, he said.

Panjaitan said better coordination of local governments, villagers and companies could help reduce the risk.

Local leaders may turn a blind eye to burning of peatlands for fear of losing votes in elections later this year, he added.

Experts said the haze problem, which affects Malaysia and Singapore as well as Indonesia, would only be resolved if governments and the private sector, including the palm oil and aviation industries, came together to tackle it jointly.

“You need to take the people that are potentially the most affected - including the private sector - and sit everybody around the table to sort this out,” said Robert Nasi, head of the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research.

Read more!

Indonesia: Researcher says Shrimp Farm Damages Mangrove Forest the Most

Tempo 25 Apr 18;

TEMPO.CO, Yogyakarta - A researcher at the Research, Development and Innovation Agency of Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Virni Budi Arifanti, stated Indonesia has the fastest rate of mangrove deforestation in the world. Virni said that the one that cause the most damage to mangrove ecosystem is the massive shrimp farm.

The shrimp farming methods removed mangrove which leads the land decomposes rapidly, as revealed on Virni research in 2013-2015 in Delta Mahakam, East Kalimantan. “At least, it needs 226 years to recover the land [for mangrove],” she said.

Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s director of soil and water conservation Muhammad Firman said Indonesia has lost 52,000 hectares of mangrove land per year. The number is equal to three football fields in a week.

“The most significant cause is farming land, pond, and followed by infrastructure,” said Firman in the Asia Pacific Rainforest Summit in Yogyakarta, Tuesday, April 24.

Firman further explained the other causes that highly damaged mangrove is waste, chemical pollution, illegal logging, mangrove exploitation, and abrasion. From a total of 3.49 million hectares of mangrove, almost half of it at 1.82 million hectares were severely degraded.

The government, in a bid to suppress the high rate of the damaged mangrove, will issue a regulation on restoring and rehabilitating mangrove forest. Firman mentioned, the strategic plans are minimalizing mangrove conversion, promoting the function of biodiversity-ecosystem and protecting the coastal area.


Read more!

Indonesia: At least 10 killed, dozens injured in oil well fire in Aceh

The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 18;

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Wednesday that 10 people were killed and dozens injured after an oil well in Pasir Putih village, Ranto Peureulak subdistrict in East Aceh caught fire at 1:30 a.m.

BNPB spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said workers had been collecting crude oil from the well prior to the fire.

“We have reason to believe that the blaze had been triggered by sparks from a welding pipe,” Sutopo said, adding that the owner of the well had yet to be confirmed.

Two fire trucks were deployed to the scene at 2:30 a.m.

Sutopo said in a written statement that state-owned oil and gas firm Pertamina and BNPB Aceh would apply special technology to put out the fire.

The fire occurred a month after an oil spill in East Kalimantan that was blamed on a broken pipe belonging to Pertamina. (dmr)

Blazing oil well confirmed illegal: BPBD Aceh
Gemma Holliani Cahya The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 18;

An oil well that caught fire and killed 10 people in Pasir Putih village, Ranto Peureulak subdistrict, East Aceh, on Wednesday morning was illegal, says the Aceh Disaster and Mitigation Agency (BPBD Aceh)

Nineteen people were injured in the incident that also damaged five houses in the village.

“It is an illegal well. The well was built on land belonging to Bu Zainabah, whose house also burned down during the incident. The owner of the well is still unknown because it is a shared well. Some people exploit the crude oil from the well together,” a BPBD Aceh official who requested anonymity told The Jakarta Post in a phone call on Wednesday.

She said the fire had yet to be extinguished. “Two fire trucks were deployed at 2:30 a.m. but nine hours later it has yet to be put out."

Sutopo said state oil and gas firm Pertamina and BPBD Aceh would apply special technology to put out the fire.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s law enforcement director general, Rasio Ridho Sani, said the ministry had deployed officials to Pasir Putih village to investigate the incident.

“We have assigned a team to the location,” Rasio told the Post. The fire happened only a month after an oil spill disaster caused by Pertamina's burst undersea pipeline in East Kalimantan.(ebf)

Govt to take legal action against drillers of illegal oil well after fire
Stefanno R. Sulaiman and Gemma Holliani Cahya The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 18;

The government plans to take legal actions against parties responsible for an oil well fire in Aceh on Wednesday morning, said Energy and Mineral Resources Minister spokesman Agung Pribadi.

Ten people were killed in the blaze, which occurred in Pasir Putih village, Ranto Peureulak subdistrict, East Aceh.

“This is an illegal [well]. So, we will take legal action in collaboration with the local law enforcement,” Agung told journalists on Wednesday.

The illegal, 250-meters-deep oil well had been drilled on land belonging to state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina.

The ministry’s oil and gas directorate general and Pertamina have sent a team to Pasar Putih to investigate the incident, Agung said.

At the time of writing, firefighters have still been unable to extinguish the fire.

This is the second incident this month involving crude oil that has triggered an environmental disaster.

On March 31, around 40,000 barrels of Pertamina crude oil leaded from one of the company’s underwater pipelines in Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan, causing a fire that killed five fishermen and prompted authorities to declare an emergency status. (ebf)

Death toll in Aceh oil well fire rises to 11
Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 18;

Personnel from a joint search and rescue (SAR) team have found the body of another victim of an oil well fire in East Aceh regency, Aceh, bringing the death toll in the incident to 11.

Meanwhile, 42 others have been severely injured in the blaze at the well in Pasir Putih village, Ranto Panjang Peureulak district, early on Wednesday.

The 11 fatalities have been identified as Afrizal, Era, Eridansyah, Dedi Syahputera, Kak Nini, Mak Wen, Nazarullah, Putra Jubir, Riski Ardiansyah, Siti Hafsah and Sudaryono. All of the victims are residents of Ranto Peureulak district.

The bodies of the dead have been moved to the Ranto Peureulak community health center (Puskesmas). They were found by the SAR team at a distance of around 10 to 20 meters from the blaze.

East Aceh Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Syahrizal Fauzi said the joint SAR team continued to work to recover other possible victims. “The evacuation process is still being hampered by the blazing fire from the oil well that has not yet been extinguished,” Syahrizal told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

He said all injured victims were being treated at three different hospitals in Peureulak. Twenty people are receiving treatment at Zubir Mahmud Hospital while 16 others are at Abdul Azis Hospital. Meanwhile, six people are being treated at Graha Bunda Hospital.

Syahrizal said the oil well fire also destroyed five houses. Authorities are investigating the cause of the incident. (ebf)

Illegal oil exploration activities in Aceh must stop: WALHI
Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 25 Apr 18;

Environment watchdog Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) is calling on the government to immediately stop illegal crude oil drilling activities in Aceh, following a fire at an illegal oil well in Peureulak, East Aceh, early on Wednesday that killed 11 people.

WALHI Aceh director M. Nur said his group had reported the illegal crude oil exploration activities in Peureulak to local administrations a long time ago.

However, the authorities have tended to play down their complaints so that the illegal wells continue to operate until today.

“Since 2012, we have called on the government to close down the illegal exploration activities because they are dangerous and have polluted the environment. However, the mining activities conducted in the name of people have continued to take place,” Nur told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

The environmentalist further said Aceh had two illegal crude oil drilling locations, namely in Peureulak and in Bireun. The two sites still operated even though in 2016 an oil well in Bireuen was set ablaze. No fatalities were reported in that incident.

Nur deplored the Aceh administration for not taking tough measures against illegal oil exploration activities that were dangerous to residents living in the surrounding areas. Drilling activities in the illegal wells were conducted without clear regulations and adequate safety equipment.

Citing an example, Nur said, many workers smoked as they carried out drilling activities. They were also not supplied with safety equipment, posing dangers to the drillers themselves and people nearby. (ebf)

At least 18 killed, dozens injured in illegal Indonesia oil well fire
Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 18;

BANDA ACEH: The death toll from a blaze at an illegal Indonesian oil well on Wednesday (Apr 25) has jumped to 18 with dozens injured, authorities said, warning there could be yet more victims.

Images from the accident showed a towering flame shooting some 70 metres (230 feet) above homes and palm trees dotting a small community in Sumatra island's Aceh province.

Firefighters on Wednesday afternoon were still battling the blaze sparked by an oil spill at about 1.30am in a residential area. Several homes were destroyed.

"We're still unable to control the fire," said Syahrizal Fauzi, head of the local disaster mitigation agency.

"We don't know if there are still victims because we cannot get any closer."

Authorities initially said at least 10 people died and some 40 "severely injured" victims were being treated.

The jump in the death toll was due to the subsequent deaths of eight victims who had been rushed to hospital, authorities said.

"There was a group of people digging in the old well but suddenly a huge fire was sparked and it exploded," said national police spokesman Setyo Wasisto.

The victims were collecting oil from around the entrance of a well bore when the blaze erupted, police said.

It was not known how much oil was spilled or what ignited the fire, but authorities suggested a lit cigarette as a possible cause.

"There were many people there who were smoking," Wasisto said.

"It's a village, so many were scrambling to get oil and it was crowded."

East Aceh is dotted with numerous small-scale oil drilling operations, which are often run illegally by local villagers.

There are reportedly tens of thousands of such wells across the Indonesian archipelago.

Abandoned oil wells are sometimes re-tapped while locals also drill into fresh sites to find new sources.

Deadly fires are not uncommon in Indonesia, a sprawling country of more than 260 million people where safety regulations are often flouted.


Aceh 3
Indonesian fire fighters battle to extinguish a fire at an illegal oil well in Peureulak on April 25, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Ilyas Ismail)
In October 47 people died after a blaze tore through a fireworks factory outside Jakarta.

Workplace safety is often lacking in Indonesia and there are also concerns about lax building standards.

This year Jakarta temporarily halted all elevated transportation projects after a dozen major accidents killed five and wounded dozens more.

That directive followed a balcony collapse at the Jakarta Stock Exchange building which injured dozens.

Source: AFP/ng/ec

Read more!

Climate change to drive migration from island homes sooner than thought

Low-lying atolls around the world will be overtaken by sea-level rises within a few decades, according to a new study
Matthew Taylor The Guardian 25 Apr 18;

Hundreds of thousands of people will be forced from their homes on low-lying islands in the next few decades by sea-level rises and the contamination of fresh drinking water sources, scientists have warned.

A study by researchers at the US Geological Survey (USGS), the Deltares Institute in the Netherlands and Hawaii University has found that many small islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans will be uninhabitable for humans by the middle of this century. That is much earlier than previously thought.

Experts say the findings underline the looming climate change driven migration crisis that is predicted to see hundreds of millions of people forced from their homes in the coming years.

More than half a million people around the world live on atoll islands, often extraordinary and beautiful structures based on coral reefs. Their closeness to sea level makes them particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The increase in urgency comes because, according to the authors of the report, previous studies had been based only on predicted sea-level rises. Today’s study also examined the impact of wave driven flooding on the availability of fresh water.

Saltwater flooding, leading to the contamination of water sources, will see most atolls become uninhabitable sometime between 2030 and 2060, said Curt Storlazzi, USGS geologist and lead author of the new report. “The tipping point when potable groundwater on the majority of atoll islands will be unavailable is projected to be reached no later than the middle of the 21st century.”

The primary source of freshwater for populated atoll islands is rain that soaks into the ground and remains there as a layer of fresh groundwater that floats on top of denser saltwater, according to the study. But as atoll islands are regularly swamped by salt water this freshwater will be contaminated making “human habitation difficult in most locations beginning between the 2030s to 2060s, requiring the relocation of island inhabitants or significant financial investments in new infrastructure.”

“The overwash events generally result in salty ocean water seeping into the ground and contaminating the freshwater aquifer. Rainfall later in the year is not enough to flush out the saltwater and refresh the island’s water supply before the next year’s storms arrive repeating the overwash event,” explained Stephen Gingerich, USGS hydrologist and co-author of the new report.

The authors say although the study was focussed on Roi-Namur Island on Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands, the results will apply to people living in atolls around the world – including the Caroline Islands, Cook Islands, Gilbert Islands, Line Islands, Society Islands, Spratly Islands, Maldives, Seychelles, and north-western Hawaiian Islands.

But the fate of people living on atolls will be just one part of the much wider climate migration crisis, said Dina Ionesco, head of migration, environment and climate change at the International Organisation for Migration. “Millions of people are going to be at risk from extreme heat, extreme water shortages and flooding as well as sea level rises... we are talking about something that is going to play a huge role in the years ahead in terms of forcing people to leave their homes.”

Read more!

Eight months on, is the world's most drastic plastic bag ban working?

Kenya’s ban comes with the world’s stiffest fines and some businesses are struggling to find affordable alternatives, but in Nairobi’s shanty towns the clean-up is changing lives
Jonathan Watts The Guardian 25 Apr 18;

Waterways are clearer, the food chain is less contaminated with plastic – and there are fewer “flying toilets”.

A year after Kenya announced the world’s toughest ban on plastic bags, and eight months after it was introduced, the authorities are claiming victory – so much so that other east African nations Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are considering following suit.

But it is equally clear that there have been significant knock-on effects on businesses, consumers and even jobs as a result of removing a once-ubiquitous feature of Kenyan life.

“Our streets are generally cleaner which has brought with it a general ‘feel-good’ factor,” said David Ong’are, the enforcement director of the National Environment Management Authority. “You no longer see carrier bags flying around when its windy. Waterways are less obstructed. Fishermen on the coast and Lake Victoria are seeing few bags entangled in their nets.”

Ong’are said abattoirs used to find plastic in the guts of roughly three out of every 10 animals taken to slaughter. This has gone down to one. The government is now conducting a proper analysis to measure the overall effect of the measure.

The draconian ban came in on 28 August 2017, threatening up to four years’ imprisonment or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) for anyone producing, selling – or even just carrying – a plastic bag.

In Nairobi’s shanty towns, one immediate impact was on the practice of defecating in a plastic bag, tying it up and then throwing it on to the tin roofs, a convenience known as “flying toilets”.

“I don’t know when the flying toilets started, but they are not good,” says Johnson Kaunange, a wheelchair user. “You never know where they are going to land or where they will fall when it rains. My wheelchair often rolls over the bags and splits them, and then the stink on the wheels is disgusting.”

In the Mathare community, this is good news. Since the ban was introduced, many more people are using a communal toilet, which charges 5 Kenyan shillings (4p) for single use or 100 shillings for a month-long family pass.

The facility is on the bustling thoroughfare leading down into Mathare valley. One of the administrators Caleb Omondi said he has already noticed a difference now that flying toilets are effectively prohibited.

“The number of users is now much higher. We used to get about 300 people a day. Now it’s over 400,” he said. “I’m overjoyed. This is making the community cleaner and we get more income.”

In broader society, the ban appears to be working, albeit imperfectly. Among the hundreds of people who walk the street, there are only two who are carrying or selling plastic bags.

Elijia, who preferred not to give his family name, is a young man who says he has to use a plastic bag to carry his beloved khat because it keeps the moisture far more effectively than a paper bag. “I’m worried about the police, of course, but I’m not a bad person,” he says.

The other is Esther, a stallholder who sells fried chips for 20 shillings (15p) a bag. She sighs when the subject is mentioned. A clutch of red, orange and green biodegradable fibre bags pinned to the wall behind her show her efforts to meet the conditions of the ban, but it is clearly eating into already slim margins. The new bags are six times more expensive than plastic. Customers refuse to pay extra and there are no subsidies from the government so she has to swallow the extra cost. “My business is badly affected,” she complained. “I’m not against a plastic ban, but there should be a cheap alternative.”

Of course, any indiction has to come with enforcement, and this has not always been pretty.

In the eight months since the ban was introduced, local media have charted the crackdown on “plastic bag dealers.” In February, more than 50 people were arrested in raids in Mombasa, Kisii, Keroka and Bomet. Authorities also shut down Nairobi’s Burma market for widespread noncompliance.

In Mathare, a group of slums home to half a million people, one local trader, nicknamed Onya, was arrested after police caught him using plastic bags to sell chicken heads. The judge fined him 15,000 shillings (£110), much lower than the maximum penalty but equivalent to six weeks’ work. “That seems harsh for a new law,” said one of his customers.

Other stallholders are asking their customers to bring plastic bowls or traditional bags made from sisal fibre. This has led to complaints. The bowls spill easily. The sisal bags are expensive because the plants, which were once common, have been replaced by cash crops.

There has been push-back. On 1 March, the manufacturer, Hi-Plast filed a lawsuit against the government for compensation and argued the ban has been selectively implemented.

In Kenya as a whole, the prohibition on plastic bags has caused headaches for retailers and manufacturers.

“The ban has shaken the economy. In several areas, business is at a standstill,” said Samuel Matonda of the Kenyan manufacturers association, who complains that the policy should have been introduced gradually.

He estimates 80% of member companies are affected and close to 100,000 people have been laid off because the outlawing of flat plastic bags has been very broadly interpreted to include almost all packaging, which hurts exporters of food and flower products to Tesco, Walmart and Carrefour, as well as producers of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals.

Matonda is now part of a panel that is working with the government to create more exemptions and put a greater emphasis on improving waste management.

“It’s a stimulus,” he says. “The ban has undoubtedly aroused more public awareness of the need for a clean environment. We have achieved more in six months than in the previous five years.”

The environment ministry says the attitude of manufacturers has changed. “The companies are now coming by themselves to offer solutions,” said Ong’are. With PET bottles next in the government’s sights, companies are proposing a self-management scheme to organise collection and recycling.

There is still a long way to go. The ban could add to problems not just for rich manufacturers but for poor communities unless there are policies to provide cheap alternatives. But at Mathare, a football ground once covered in six feet of plastic waste is testimony to the benefits that can flow from an improved environment.

As in other countries with similar bans, the policy is still being refined, but it has support. “It should definitely encourage other countries around the world, and not just in Africa, to ban plastic bags and other single-use plastics,” said Dr Arnold Kreilhuber, head of international environmental law at UN Environment.

“It is however important to engage in as much public consultation as possible to ensure a smooth transition through the ban to implementation. Banning plastic bags is a big win, but it’s just the beginning. We need more investment in waste management to guarantee Kenyans a clean and healthy environment.”

Read more!

Gorillas are far more numerous than previously thought, survey reveals

Larger-than-expected population in Africa gives hope for species survival, scientists say, but animal remains critically endangered
Damian Carrington The Guardian 25 Apr 18;

There are far more gorillas left in the world than previously thought, according to a landmark new survey, with numbers as much as double earlier estimates.

However, their populations are continuing to fall fast, down 20% in just eight years, leaving them critically endangered. Furthermore, 80% of the remaining gorilla troops do not live in protected areas, leaving them vulnerable to the threats the researchers summarise as “guns, germs and [felled] trees”.

The decade-long survey in western equatorial Africa involved almost 9,000km of foot patrols and used the nests that gorillas make every night to assess the population. The scientists covered the entire range of the western lowland gorilla, which accounts for 99% of all living gorillas, now thought to number around 360,000 animals.

Gorillas are vital for the health of the entire forest, the scientists said, because they spread large seeds and their loss is disastrous in the long term. The larger-than-expected population gives hope for gorilla survival, they said, if poaching and forest destruction for palm oil can be halted.

“The population could be double,” said Prof Fiona Maisels, from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the one of 50-strong international experts who conducted the survey. “But that is not the big story. Just because there are rather a lot of them does not mean they are not very, very vulnerable.” Gorillas breed very slowly, with females taking 11-12 years to reach maturity and only giving birth every four years. “It takes a very long time to build populations back up,” Maisels said.

The survey, published in the journal Science Advances, covered about a quarter of the gorilla’s total range - an area the size of France - which is naturally bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Congo and Ubangi rivers. They then used the nest counts and data on important factors including the presence of people, roads and intact forest to produce a sophisticated statistical model.

This allowed them to fill in the gaps between the surveyed areas, unlike previous research. The resulting total was 361,900 gorillas, far higher than the earlier estimates of 150,000 to 250,000. The researchers also assessed the population of the central chimpanzee sub-species, which lives in the same range and represents about a third of all chimps. Their population was 10-80% higher than thought.

It is illegal to kill or capture any great ape in all the nations where they live, but poaching to supply bushmeat to fast-growing cities is rife. Outbreaks of Ebola virus have also decimated populations in recent decades, with “catastrophic” impact on populations, the scientists said. “If Ebola wipes through an area, they all go – 90% of them in six months,” said Maisels.

The most important single factor in determining the survival of gorillas was the presence of park guards to deter poachers, the analysis found. Dominant males are easy to shoot because they attempt to stand up to hunters, trying to protect their group. The males replacing them often kill the babies they have not fathered, compounding the losses.

In contrast, chimpanzees, which spend much more time in trees, usually flee when hunters approach. “They are not as heroic, if you like,” said Maisels. “Chimps are cleverer and sneak away very quietly.” Local cultural taboos against eating chimp meat also helped protect them in a few locations. The chimp population did not show a significant decline in the study period from 2008 to 2013.

“The advice we would like to offer is keep up the anti-poaching effort,” said Maisels. “That gets rid of the immediate worry. But the future worry is the removal of forest for agricultural development. If a big area of forest is turned into an oil palm or rubber plantation, it is not habitat for anything anymore, except weeds.”

Only 20% of the gorilla’s range is in protected areas and the researchers said the vast majority of unprotected forests are being opened up to logging and deforestation: “It is vital that we step up our efforts to conserve great apes.”

The situation varies widely by country, said Maisel, with Gabon having good national policies while the war-torn Central African Republic is struggling to govern at all. Congo is a hotspot for gorillas, she said, and could play a vital role in conservation.

Liz Williamson, great apes coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list, said a combination of responsible development and a network of well-managed parks would provide a winning formula: “Our study has revealed that it is not too late to secure a future for gorillas.”

The western lowland gorilla is by far the most populous subspecies. There are about 3,600 eastern lowland or Grauer’s gorillas – a fall of 75% in last 20 years - and just 200-300 Cross River gorillas.

Read more!