Energy company AGL walked into a world of hostility when it hosted a public information night at Dalton on Wednesday.
Signs stating ‘No Dalton gas-fired station’ dotted the road from Gunning to the village. Opposite the meeting hall a truck was emblazoned with a banner – ‘What’s that smell. It’s AGL.’
Residents have been vocal in their opposition to the company’s plans for a gas-fired power station, 4km from the village. It would be located on a 573-hectare site off Walsh’s Road. They’ve already held one well-attended meeting and on Wednesday they again turned out en masse for the AGL forum.
The company’s head of government relations Tony Chappel began with an apology.
“It was wrong of us to go quiet (over the past five years),” he said.
“...Even if it was to let you know that (the project) was not proceeding, that would have been better than what we did and for that I unreservedly apologise.”
Mr Chappel was referring to AGL’s decision to suspend its peaking station following the 2012 State Government approval. It is now seeking a two-year extension to the approval to reassess energy market conditions and decide whether to proceed with the 750 to 1000 megawatt development.
Mr Chappel stressed it was “absolutely not a baseload station,” as some had claimed. He told the estimated 200-strong crowd that AGL was reconsidering the start-up “because the energy market was now radically different to 2012.”
“In 2012 it was the beginning of the boom in rooftop solar and more efficient energy design. But then energy demand dropped off and that was why our project didn’t go ahead,” he said.
But now there were carbon emission targets, Australia had some of the “oldest energy infrastructure in the developed world”, nearing the end of its life, and there were rapid advances in technologies, such as battery power.
Mr Chappel said AGL needed time to consider whether the Dalton station was viable but ultimately, it could opt for battery or solar, or a combination.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said.
But he vowed to fully consult with the community on potential impacts and keep them informed.
Some were not convinced. Residents claimed AGL had split the community before 2012 with confidentiality agreements and “appalling treatment” and didn’t bother to inform them about the extension application.
“How can you ever regain the trust of the Dalton community?” Mike Thorn asked.
Others accused the company of “riding on the coattails” of transition arrangements for the soon to be repealed Part 3A legislation to lodge the application. But Mr Chappel said if the project changed substantially, AGL would have to lodge a new DA.
Residents challenged him to update environmental data in the existing application, particularly on air quality and emissions.
Several did not want their lifestyle disturbed and were concerned about truck movements on Walsh’s Road, where they rode horses. Yass real estate agent Michael Gray also told Mr Chappel that the company’s claims property prices wouldn’t drop were “bull...”
Louise Duncan, whose home is 4km from the proposed station, said AGL had demonstrated little “empathy for the people affected by its actions.”
“They want more time. Well, we don’t. We’ve had enough. Five years of waiting with no contact, no updates, no engagement and frankly no bloody idea what AGL intend for Dalton and its people,” she said.
Six Upper Lachlan Shire councillors attended the meeting, as did a Department of Planning observer. Goulburn Greens member Bill Dorman chaired the forum, at residents’ request.