AGL CEO Andrew Vesey likes to paint himself as a sort of “greenie” who is shifting the company in the right direction in these “carbon constrained” times.
But that was contested by about 200 lively protesters and the Ecopella choir who stationed themselves outside the company’s AGM in Sydney on September 28, to send AGL a strong message it must accept the science and leave coal and gas in the ground.
Stop CSG Sydney, 350.org and GetUp! organised a lively event which included giving shareholders an alternative annual report detailing how AGL was Australia’s number one fossil fuel polluter.
350.org campaigner Josh Creaser said: “AGL presents itself as a clean energy company, but it has a dirty secret. It is Australia’s biggest carbon polluter, emitting 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. That is equivalent to the pollution produced by almost half of all the cars in Australia.”
Anti-coal, anti-coal seam gas and other climate activists, as well as Knitting Nannas from Gloucester and the Illawarra, gathered to hear from experts outside and shareholders were given the real briefing as they walked inside.
Inside, out of 19 questions asked of the board, 13 related to climate change. One questioner, asked why AGL had not responded to Dannielle Hodges, a resident of Spring Farm near Camden, who lives close to 20 of AGL’s coal seam gas wells, some of which have had major leaks.
The Camden community wants AGL to close down its wells immediately, and not in 2023. Melinda Wilson, who spoke outside, said more than 10,000 people had signed a petition calling on AGL to leave its Camden project on the basis of health concerns and disposal of waste water, and it had repeatedly refused to take the petition, let alone respond to the concerns.
Later, AGL executive Douglas Jackson accepted the petition calling for the immediate closure of the Camden Gas Project. Mr Jackson met with representatives of Stop CSG Camden and agreed to get back to them with a schedule for closure next week.
Wilson told Green Left Weekly that the community would not rest until AGL had exited Camden — the new growth area of Sydney. She said the NSW Department of Planning had approved 35,000 new homes to be built within 20 metres of AGL’s existing coal seam gas wells.
“This is a health epidemic in the making. The people of south-west Sydney should not be used as guinea pigs in a coal seam gas experiment. The serious health effects relating to coal seam gas must be acknowledged by AGL and the government.
“AGL’s plan to close all coal seam gas wells in Camden by 2023 is not acceptable. Our children deserve a future where their water and air is clean. They deserve a future free from illness. They don’t deserve seven more years of health effects caused by AGL’s Camden Gas Project.”
Dr Helen Redmond, speaking on behalf of Doctors for the Environment at the protest, confirmed that while there is still a lot of unknowns about the health impacts of air pollution from unconventional gas, US population health studies showed a correlation between the proximity and density of wells and bad health impacts including low birth weight, preterm, birth defects, increased cardiac and neurological hospital admissions and increased asthma attacks.
“With climate change upon us we don’t have time for a transition fuel, but nor do we need one! We have cleaner and healthier alternatives right now,” Redmond told the rally.
“The risks are so potentially dangerous, so difficult to manage and so likely to be long-lived, that any further development of unconventional gas in the country has to be seen as unwise and unhealthy.”
Mick Fetch from Wollar gave a heart rending speech about the community’s battle with corporate giant Peabody Energy which owns the Wilpinjong open-cut coal mine which supplies AGL’s Bayswater and Liddell power stations in the Hunter Valley.
“The Wilpinjong Mine has had devastating impacts upon our once vibrant rural community in the Wollar district,” Fetch told the rally.
“I came to ask AGL what it has planned with regard to a transition away from coal-fired power. I also want to know when this madness of expansion after expansion of Wilpinjong mine is going to stop.”
While Peabody is bankrupt it still wants to expand a very dirty mine producing coal which is high in ash content.
The Australian arm of Peabody Energy recorded a loss of nearly $3 billion in June, two months after it declared bankruptcy in the US.
Carol Bennett, a Knitting Nanna from Gloucester, slammed AGL for its arrogance and issued a challenge: “The Knitting Nannas challenge you, Mr Vesey, to show you mean it when you say you want a clean green company, by immediately, announcing a schedule to start decommissioning the wells and close down the Camden operation as soon as possible, and certainly well before 2023.
“The Knitting Nannas also challenge all AGL shareholder to add their voices to this request and to ask Mr Vesey and the board to make it a priority to speed up the withdrawal and closure of the Camden gasfield, so that the families living there no longer have to suffer the problems they currently have to face.
“Do it for the children,” Bennet said, “they are the ones who are being put at risk.”
Meanwhile, inside Vesey gave himself a pay rise of around $2 million, bringing his total remuneration to $6.94 million in 2016, despite 25% of shareholders voting against.
[Pip Hinman is the president of Stop CSG Sydney.]