What was Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall doing to stop climate change, Armidale students striking on Friday wanted to know?
They and thousands of other Australian students are calling on the government to stop the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland, the largest in Australia; not build any more coal or gas plants; and switch to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
The students, carrying placards, approached Mr Marshall in the Mall. Mr Marshall later made his way to Central Park to meet the students.
Climate change, Mr Marshall agreed, was a "vital" issue.
The state government, he explained, had a target of net zero carbon in NSW by 2050. One strategy was to purchase renewable energy from projects to power government buildings, schools, and train services. Another was to provide no incentives for fossil fuels.
Mr Marshall said he had been a keen supporter of renewable energy development in the region since he was elected.
"In our region, we're very proud to stand up and say renewable energy is the way to go," Mr Marshall said. "It would be great if more regions took us as an example, and followed our lead."
The NSW government had designated New England one of the state's three renewables hotspots.
The region had some of the largest wind farms in the state, and will soon have one of the biggest solar farms, between Inverell and Glen Innes, as well. New England, Mr Marshall believed, has an abundance of natural resources: "wind, sunshine, and the altitude here helps massively with a better conversion rate for solar PV panels".
"We've got the chance not only to be at the forefront of generating smart renewable clean energy, but we've also got the opportunity to really benefit economically, with the jobs it creates and the investment it brings," Mr Marshall said.
New England, he said, was on the cusp of being able to generate enough energy in the region to supply itself, and export that energy. Throughout its whole history, New England had been net importers of energy, paying to use energy generated elsewhere.
"In this region, we've made huge strides," Mr Marshall said. "To be in a position in a space of a decade where we've gone from no energy generation to actually generating enough energy to power in theory every single home in our region is enormous. If every region did that, we wouldn't even be having this conversation!"
Market trending towards renewables, Marshall says
Mr Marshall thought it unlikely Australia would switch completely to renewables by 2030, but believed the market was trending in that direction.
"In terms of energy generation and actually getting projects approved and built, 2030 is the equivalent of next week in terms of the energy market," Mr Marshall said. "But ultimately we are well on the way, and heading down that path."
Coal and fossil fuel companies like AG Energy had started investing in renewables. "If we don't see the leadership at a Commonwealth level, at least the market will do it anyway," Mr Marshall said. "That's what we're seeing now; the market is taking control."
Switching to renewables, Mr Marshall said, depended on what the private sector wants; private companies, not governments, built those facilities, backed by superannuation funds or overseas governments.
The state government supported the growth of renewables by signing power purchase agreements (a contract to buy the energy) with companies. The government financially underwrites the project, which allows that company to approach investors with confidence. The government has underwritten about 20 solar projects, and some wind ones.
These projects took time, however, and the energy market was very complex.
"Even if you were to come up with a proposal to develop a new solar farm or a wind farm tomorrow," Mr Marshall said, "it would conservatively be four or five years before you would be producing anything, and that's if everything goes according to plan!"
An action group, for instance, had opposed the proposed Uralla solar farm project; while they believed in renewables, they didn't want the facilities affecting their views or land.
Solar energy trading in New England
Mr Marshall said he was determined to create peer-to-peer energy trading longterm, so people could sell energy from their rooftop solar panels, rather than just trickling it into the grid. The financial incentive, he explained, would encourage people to use renewables.
He would also like to see solar panels on government buildings (like the new Armidale Secondary College), so they could reroute energy into hospitals, fire stations, or other necessary public services to reduce operating costs on the taxpayer.
"We can be smarter with the energy that we consume, and contribute to a greater diversity of that energy mix, and get faster to that goal [of 100 per cent renewable energy]," Mr Marshall said.
Mr Marshall said there would be no coal seam gas exploration in his electorate, but would not be drawn on the Adani coal mine.
Marshall supports student strike
The strike, Mr Marshall thought, was "great". He supported young people having their views, and getting together.
"Regardless of what the issue is, I want to see more young people taking a strong interest in politics and issues. It's going to be your world to inherit."
Organiser Shayla Oates thought Mr Marshall's responses were a bit roundabout, but was glad he supported them.
"He's not going to make changes in the area as fast as I'd like him to, but that's the reality of politics," he said. "I'll keep trying my best to convince him that what we're heading to is going to be really scary and devastating."