“Well, it’s not ideal, but to be honest we expected a lot more hostility.”
So says NSW Nationals Clarence branch delegate Meg Nielsen, whose conference motion urging government to move away from fossil fuels was heavily amended, and shorn of any reference to coal or gas production.
Instead, what was passed at conference was for "all levels of government to prioritise the transition to modern, efficient technologies for reliable energy generation, storage, and transmission.”
"What are we actually asking here?” said one delegate.
“I'm wondering if I'm at the wrong conference. I'm sick of coal bashing. Coal built this nation."
Ms Nielsen was disappointed but not despondent.
“A few years ago I would say we would have been howled down and sneered at for putting this forward,” Ms Nielsen said at Cowra on Friday.
“So while it is disappointing, it is changing. People are willing to acknowledge we need to transition away from coal and gas.”
Energy – and energy prices – took centre stage at Cowra on Friday morning as delegates also endorsed further investigation into Thorium and wave technology.
I'm wondering if I'm at the wrong conference. I'm sick of coal bashing. Coal built this nation.- NSW Nationals delegate
No one disagreed that an eventual transition was inevitable – more the speed in which it should happen.
An inevitable back and forth on renewables and fossil fuel saw delegates split down familiar lines: Some arguing to prioiritise mineral production and short-to-medium term economic prosperity, others pointing to the changing climate and available clean technologies.
Ms Neilsen’s motion came directly after conference endorsed a push for state government to build at least one High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plant in NSW.
Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen insisted "We have the responsibility to ensure we build new HELE power stations.
“Coal in itself is not meant to be mutually exclusive from other forms of energy generation. But we need to secure our baseload," he said.
Others were more skeptical
“This is a fictitious animal. It is overstated across the world. It has been shown to have failed,” said one delegate.
"Coal is harming our air,” said another.
“No one wants to talk about that. But we can't exist without it at the moment. There is room to clean up our act. We have to transition."
In the end, the economic argument won out.
"To prioritise certain narrow and inefficient technology is hurting our nation. It's an energy mix," said Gunnedah branch representative Murray O’Keefe.
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