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More economical for now, but what about the long term?

I refer to Tuas Power’s new Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex, which uses low-sulphur coal to generate power.

Richmond Lee

I refer to Tuas Power’s new Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex, which uses low-sulphur coal to generate power.

Oil and gas prices are subject to volatility, and burning coal for power could stabilise our utility bills for now. However while coal is a cheaper and more abundant fuel, it is much more polluting than gas or oil, adding health costs to society and damage to our environment.

Unfortunately, quantifying the health and environmental impact as a result of burning coal now is tricky as these effects will only be apparent many decades later.

Possible effects include more cases of asthma due to increased exposure to particulate matter — or in the worst-case scenario, higher incidence of lung cancer — or mercury emissions leading to higher mercury levels found in fish reared locally for food.

Power generation companies have assured that the process of burning coal here is subject to stringent regulations, with filters to remove the particulate matter and only low-sulphur coal being used. However, the process of digging for coal and treating it to remove sulphur and mercury are already environmental costs at the source.

We are not better off just because we are using “cleaner” coal at the expense of others.

Another concern is that the premium on low-sulphur coal could increase due to supply constraints, and we may be compelled to switch to the more polluting type of coal in our plants in the spirit of economics.

And can we be assured that environmental standards will be strictly adhered to many years down the road when the filters start to degrade?

The more sustainable solution remains making our homes and industries more energy efficient and cutting back on energy consumption. As for the burning of coal, there must be consensus on the health and environmental impact versus economics.

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