WHILE government officials, gas industry executives and business leaders yesterday heard why coal seam gas was the best energy option for Armidale, protesters were outside explaining why it was not.
The Armidale Energy Forum was intended to inform the 50 or so attendees about the controversial coal seam gas industry's benefits, but it stirred up opposition this week when green groups felt they were locked out of the invitation-only event.
Armidale Action on Coal Seam Gas said the event was just a coal seam gas promotional opportunity that ignored the other energy options on the table for the region.
The forum was hosted by Regional Development Australia Northern Inland and the state government at Armidale's Moore Creek Inn.
It was partly organised by Liberal Duty MLC for northern NSW Scot MacDonald, who defended the forum this week by saying it was informing local heavy-energy users about the economic benefits of the coal seam gas industry and the job opportunities it could generate.
Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher arrived before the forum started at 9am to hold a doorstop meeting with those attending.
It was expected he would also speak with the crowd of 40 coal seam gas campaigners assembled outside the grounds of the inn, but he did not do so.
The government representatives made it clear the industry was on its way to the production stage, despite the community opposition, and that if Armidale did not act to receive it now, the gas pipeline could bypass the region completely.
Among those present at the vigil, labelled the "Real Energy Forum", outside the government-endorsed event were academics and renewable-energy advocates.
Starfish Enterprises executive director Adam Blakester told the small crowd that the New England area was actually more in favour of clean and renewable energy.
Mr Blakester said a survey conducted by the company revealed local residents had almost no support for the gas or coal industries.
The New England Wind Survey queried 610 people about which energy option they would prefer from a list of about 20 forms everything from solar, wind and hydro to nuclear, gas and coal.
Mr Blakester said it revealed only 10 people were in favour of coal and 15 liked gas.