ANTI-coal seam gas activists picketed a State Government energy forum in Armidale on Friday, claiming it was nothing more than a “CSG promotional event”.
The invitation-only event hosted about 40 private businesses and featured speeches by gas company representatives and State Energy Minister Chris Hartcher.
Renewable energy providers were not invited, sparking a protest by Armidale Action on Coal Seam Gas (AACGS) and related groups outside the Moore Park Inn, where the forum was being held.
Armidale Action on Coal Seam Gas spokesperson Carmel Flint said she was shocked that the Government was promoting CSG at the expense of other energy sources.
“The coal seam gas industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s perfectly capable of doing its own marketing and promotion,” she said.
“I can’t see why the NSW Government has taken on that job.
“A government’s job is to regulate that industry and not to promote it at the expense of other industries.”
The protestors held their own “real energy forum”, with speakers including Ms Flint, University of New England lecturer Dr Marty Branagan and Starfish Enterprises executive director Adam Blakester.
Mr Blakester, who is hoping to develop a community wind farm near Armidale, said CSG had very little public support in the region.
“Two massive planning processes we’ve done have involved surveys of more than two and a half thousand people,” he said.
“You can count on a couple of hands how many want coal or gas for their energy. I think, overwhelmingly, the Tablelands community want clean, renewable energy.”
Mr Hartcher defended the purpose of the meeting, claiming it was vital to secure the state’s gas supply in the future.
“There are one million customers of gas in NSW, so their needs are going to have to be addressed, and it’s the role of government to make sure that they’re addressed,” he said.
“One-third of all energy used in this state comes from gas, so if we don’t have the gas, we simply don’t have a state economy.”
Mr Hartcher said the Government was committed to increasing the state’s use of renewable energy, but Friday’s forum was specifically focused on the region’s energy needs.
“A forum like this is a specialist forum to engage those people who either provide energy or who use energy in a commercial sense to involve them in the process,” he said. “At different stages, the community will be involved in the decisions that relate to planning and the environment.”
While he acknowledged the protesters’ concerns, Mr Hartcher said it was necessary to respect the science surrounding CSG exploration.
“It’s important to have an environmental movement to raise the concerns, otherwise there’s nobody out there arguing the case,” he said.
“But it’s also important that the environmental movement respects the science.
“We’ve developed the policy that it must protect our water, it must protect our environment and it must protect our agricultural lands.”