Closing Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, for Second Reading Of The Environmental Protection And Management (Amendment) Bill
1 Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the Members for their support of the Bill. The thoughtful comments and suggestions raised reflect our collective commitment to climate action and providing a quality living environment for Singaporeans.
REDUCING EMISSIONS OF HFC REFRIGERANTS
Restricting supply of RAC equipment using high GWP refrigerants
2 I will first address Members’ questions on the measures to reduce HFC emissions from Refrigeration and Air-conditioning or RAC equipment.
3 HFC accounts for a sizable share of Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions. As Mr Louis Ng pointed out, there was a 30% increase in HFC emissions from 2014 to 2016, and this underscores the urgent need for action, which Mr Shawn Huang as well as Mr Louis Chua have also emphasised. The measures introduced today will deliver deep cuts in HFC emissions, and bring us closer to our climate goals.
4 Mr Don Wee suggested delaying the measures in view of the current economic conditions caused by the pandemic. I wish to clarify that the requirement to use low-GWP refrigerants applies only to new regulated equipment that is supplied from 1 October 2022. Companies can continue to use their existing equipment until end of life.
5 While low-GWP chillers may cost a little more, they are typically more energy and carbon efficient and offer net cost savings over their lifecycle. Investing in them not only protects the climate, but also protects companies from being locked into the higher operating costs of less efficient chillers. For example, CapitaLand expects to reap lifecycle cost savings of $280,000 from its low-GWP chiller in Funan.
6 Companies that are replacing their chillers in the immediate future can tap on a grant introduced in October 2020 to incentivise the early switch to low-GWP chillers, before the supply restriction comes into force in October 2022. So far, ten projects have been approved or are under consideration. These projects are expected to collectively abate HFC emissions equivalent to 60 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide, comparable to taking around 18,000 cars off the road. One grant recipient is Kaer Pte Ltd, an energy services company which provides “Cooling as a Service”. With grant support, Kaer is replacing chillers at an industrial facility with climate-friendly ones that not only use low-GWP refrigerant, but will also improve the system’s energy efficiency by 35%.
Developing Capabilities to Handle Refrigerants
7 As Mr Louis Ng has highlighted, proper refrigerant handling practices are important to minimise HFC emissions during servicing and maintenance of RAC equipment.
8 We have worked closely with Temasek Polytechnic and industry partners to develop a training and certification programme for chiller technicians. This two-day programme has been designed to be practical and relevant to the industry, and will cover the processes for handling and recovering refrigerants from chillers. Technicians will be re-certified every three years to keep up with advancements in technology.
9 Mr Louis Ng and Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked whether the course could be held in other languages aside from English. The course is designed to meet the needs of the technicians. It will be conducted in simple spoken English. Temasek Polytechnic has ample experience in conducting other similar technical courses and trainers will tailor their delivery to suit the language competency of technicians. Trainers will also give practical demonstrations and conduct hands-on practice to enhance understanding. To be certified, technicians have to pass an open-book test comprising multiple choice questions and a simple practical assessment. During my visit to Temasek Polytechnic, I noticed that the course will be conducted by technicians themselves. The course will be conducted in language that is simple to understand.
10 Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Louis Ng and Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked if there would be financial support for these technicians. Singaporeans and PRs will be eligible for up to 90% subsidies under SkillsFuture SG, and the balance of $85 can be paid for using their SkillsFuture credits.
11 We agree with Mr Desmond Choo that companies need time to develop internal processes and train their technicians. For this reason, we announced the requirements early, in March last year. We have since been engaging the industry closely to develop these measures, and will continue to do so to ensure a smooth transition. I am also pleased to inform Mr Desmond Choo that the register for registered suppliers and registered regulated goods will be made accessible online. This was a question asked by Mr Louis Chua as well.
12 Mr Desmond Choo also proposed stricter penalties for the offence of falsifying information or data under the new section 40X. The penalty of a fine not exceeding $5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months (or both) is aligned to similar offences under the Energy Conservation Act. From our experience, this serves as sufficient deterrence. We will review the penalty level should data falsification become an issue of concern going forward.
Recovery of Spent HFC Refrigerants
13 Mr Don Wee asked whether requiring spent refrigerants to be recovered and treated will add to business cost. This is unlikely, as most of the spent refrigerants can be treated for reuse and have commercial value. Today, even in the absence of regulation, there is already a market for them and facilities to treat spent refrigerants are already available.
Future Plans for HFC Mitigation
14 Mr Louis Ng asked about our plans to address HFC emissions beyond the current measures. We are studying the potential for other types of RAC equipment, such as commercial and industrial refrigeration units, to switch to low-GWP refrigerants. We will need to assess the feasibility of available technologies, balancing considerations such as fire safety, toxicity, energy efficiency, and the cost of suitable substitutes. In response to Mr Louis Chua, we will consult and work closely with industries and businesses, and give sufficient lead time before implementing any measures. I assure Mr Don Wee that we will carefully consider the cost impact on our cold chain needs when assessing any future measures on commercial and industrial refrigeration units. The measures introduced today have no impact on cold chain needs, as climate-friendly household refrigerators do not cost more.
15 Prof Hoon Hian Teck asked whether it would be better to price HFC emissions rather than regulate it. While pricing remains an option, there are merits in adopting regulations to reduce HFC emissions, and most jurisdictions also take this approach. HFC emissions arise mainly from ownership rather than the intensity of use of RAC equipment, and are locked in by technology choices.
16 Given technical complexity and the need to balance multiple considerations in the choice of refrigerants as highlighted earlier, it is difficult for end users to make informed choices or to influence upstream supplier decisions. Regulation offers much greater outcome certainty in abating HFC emissions. In commercial chillers for example, regulation will effect a switch to the new generation of refrigerants with GWP close to zero, bringing HFC emissions to negligible levels when the entire stock of chillers turns over.
17 Even if taxation were to be introduced, these considerations mean that regulations may still be needed. We would also have to consider the cost-effectiveness of the taxation regime, given the highly distributed sources of emissions. While the tax can be levied upstream on importers, this has to be coupled with a system of downstream rebates for spent refrigerants that are recovered. This could potentially result in higher administrative costs.
18 Mr Louis Chua also asked about the abatement potential and plans for the Kigali Amendment. The HFC mitigation measures introduced today are expected to reduce HFC emissions from the regulated equipment by around half by the year 2030. With regard to the Kigali Amendment, my Ministry has initiated a review and is consulting key stakeholders, and will update when ready.
MANAGEMENT OF CONSTRUCTION NOISE
19 I will now address Members’ questions on construction noise and the requirement for contractors who have violated the no-work rule to install, maintain and operate video surveillance at their construction sites.
Requirement to Install, Maintain and Operate Video Surveillance at Construction Sites that have Violated the No work Rule
20 First, let me address questions on the implementation of the requirement for video surveillance. Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about the types of construction projects covered. The current regulations state that all construction sites located less than 150 metres from any hospital, home for the aged sick or residential building must comply with the no-work rule on Sundays and public holidays. The Bill does not change the no-work rule requirement. Under the Bill, the Director General may impose the requirement for video surveillance on any construction site that contravenes the no-work rule. So, the site has to contravene the rule first. The requirement applies to all public and private sector construction projects, regardless of size, if they violate the no-work rule.
21 It is important to ensure the integrity and proper functioning of the video surveillance systems, as Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Mr Yip Hon Weng and Ms Joan Pereira have pointed out. NEA will carry out scheduled and surprise site inspections to ensure that the video surveillance systems are in good working condition and not tampered with.
22 The new section 28A empowers the Director-General to specify requirements for the video surveillance system, including ensuring that the system’s security is not compromised. For example, contractors should implement robust digital ID and password controls, and restrict access to the physical components of the system. The person required to install, operate and maintain the video surveillance system under the new section 28A must also take all reasonable steps to ensure that no person tampers with, or does anything to compromise, the proper functioning of the system or any image, sound or video recorded by the system.
23 Mr Don Wee asked whether phone video footages can be used to substantiate complaints on no-work rule violations in place of video surveillance. While phone video footages can be used as evidence for prosecution, they might not capture sufficient information on the construction activities being carried out, to conclude that there was indeed an offence. Such footages received from the public might also not be timely enough to address ongoing construction noise infringements.
24 On the other hand, the installed video surveillance will allow NEA to remotely monitor construction worksites and deter repeat violations. It enhances NEA’s efficiency and responsiveness, removing the need for officers to carry out repeated inspections to address recurring public feedback.
25 I assure Mr Don Wee and Mr Yip Hon Weng that we are mindful of the impact of the measures on the construction industry, which is facing challenging times. The requirement will only be imposed on the very small group of construction sites that have breached the no-work rule. This is around 150 out of 5,800 construction sites a year, or 3% of all active sites. It will not affect the vast majority of construction sites that comply with the no-work rule.
26 The cost of installing video surveillance stands at less than 1% of total construction project cost on average. One set of CCTV for example can cost about $5,000. Depending on project size, a construction site that has violated the no-work rule may be required to install up to four CCTVs.
Other Measures to Strengthen Compliance with No-work Rule
27 Mr Yip Hon Weng highlighted other complementary measures to strengthen compliance to the no-work rule, such as introducing higher penalties. The vast majority of construction sites comply with the no-work rule. NEA will monitor the effectiveness of the measures in this Bill to address the remaining small group of non-compliant contractors, and consider further measures if needed.
Measures to Manage Construction Noise in Residential Areas
28 Let me now address points raised by Members on managing construction noise in residential areas, beyond the no-work rule.
29 We have to strike a careful balance between maintaining a conducive living environment and allowing construction work to be completed within a reasonable duration and cost. We need to maintain a steady supply of public housing, continue expanding our public transport network, and provide amenities such as hospitals and schools. As Mr Yip Hon Weng pointed out, many projects have been significantly delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This impacts end-users such as families waiting to move into their BTO flats.
30 Project delays not only affect the construction industry and end-users, they also prolong the disamenities experienced by neighbouring residents. Ms Joan Pereira spoke about balancing the need to expedite projects that have been delayed, while keeping disamenities to acceptable levels. This in fact is the balance we need to strike.
31 Mr Louis Ng asked for an update on the review of construction noise limits. Given the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the construction industry, this is not the time to tighten construction noise limits which will affect the whole industry. We recognise that the construction sector faces serious manpower and supply shortages during these extraordinary times. Nevertheless, I assure Mr Louis Ng that NEA will monitor the situation and continue to work with stakeholders to review construction noise limits, including the limits for construction work on Saturdays, taking into account the World Health Organization’s guidelines and our local context.
32 Mr Yip Hon Weng gave useful suggestions to improve feedback management for residents, including having dedicated feedback channels, clear escalation protocols, standardising format for displaying communication channels and providing advance notice to residents. Many of these measures are already in place and we will see how to improve and enhance them. For example, as part of construction works that require a BCA permit, the contractor must erect a project signboard of at least 1.8 metres in width and one metre in height, before works can commence. The project signboard displays information of the project parties and their contact numbers, as well as the hotline numbers of MOM, NEA and BCA.
33 Residents can also submit their feedback through the NEA website, and the myENV and OneService mobile applications. Upon receiving feedback, NEA officers will investigate whether the construction site has generated noise levels exceeding the noise limits or violated the no-work rule, and take enforcement action accordingly.
34 NEA has also been advising contractors to engage the nearby residents early, to develop plans to minimise the impact of construction work on residents’ daily lives. Contractors have also been encouraged to implement additional noise mitigation measures where possible, such as noise barriers for noisy works like hacking and drilling.
35 We acknowledge Mr Yip Hon Weng and Ms Joan Pereira’s suggestions on improving the public’s awareness of the rules on construction noise. Information on construction noise limits, permissible work hours, and the no-work rule is published on NEA’s website. Members of the public can reach out to NEA through various communication channels to find out if a particular construction site is permitted to carry out quieter works on Sunday and public holidays, or if noise limits have been breached. NEA will explore raising public awareness of the no-work rule via social media channels.
36 On Mr Gan Thiam Poh’s suggestion to improve the noise-insulating properties of HDB flats, HDB will continue to explore practical noise mitigation measures for the comfort and well-being of residents. Given our high-density environment and with HDB flats being designed for natural ventilation, some noise will inevitably make its way into flats through open windows and doors.
37 We will continue to work with stakeholders to better manage construction noise, in order to maintain a conducive living environment, while allowing projects to keep pace with providing infrastructure and amenities for our residents.
38 Mr Deputy Speaker, the amendments in the Bill help lay the foundations to achieve our climate ambitions. The early switch to low-GWP equipment and proper management of HFC refrigerants will ensure that the cooling needs and comfort of Singaporeans will not be compromised as we transit to a low-carbon future.
39 Imposing electronic video surveillance on construction sites which have violated the no-work rule is an important step and addition to our existing enforcement measures. We hope this requirement will improve compliance and help NEA to manage public feedback more effectively.
40 Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.