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WA government scraps energy office

6th Jan 2012

The Western Australia government has announced an agency overhaul, with the Office of Energy to be replaced by a new Public Utilities Office.

The new office is to be established within the state's Department of Finance and the new arrangement is due to be implemented by the end of March.

According to premier Colin Barnett, the Public Utilities Office will provide advice to the state government on energy policy, eventually taking on the responsibility of water and waste management policy.

"The decision to establish a new Public Utilities Office is a recommendation of the Economic Audit Committee," he said.

"Establishing a Public Utilities Office with an initial focus on energy markets will enable, through economies of scale, the development of appropriate policy capacity and capability to ensure the government is able to draw on independent, high quality advice to inform its provision of essential services."

The premier stated that the new Public Utilities Office will report to energy minister Peter Collier - through the director general of the Department of Finance - on industry and policy issues.

Speaking to the ABC, opposition leader Eric Ripper said that the announcement was simply a rebranding exercise.

"This is a verdict on Peter Collier's stewardship of the energy portfolio," he said.

"The Office of Energy completely mishandled the solar feed in tariff program so we've had unsafe installations and a huge cost blowout and this is what's happened to them."

The news follows an announcement in December that additional funding had been allocated to the state's already over-budget solar panel rebate scheme after the treasurer's mid-year economic review.

Despite a cap being placed on the program in August, a further $46 million in funding was to be used over the next three years, bringing the total cost of the initiative to $180 million - six times more than the original estimate.

Treasurer Christian Porter used the mid-year review to announce an audit to determine whether any of the applications received in the months of May and June were incorrectly approved.

"The suspicion that we have in Treasury is that there are applications that said they met the requirements, but didn't," Mr Porter told WA Today (December 29).

"There's been a cost overrun, there clearly has been ... but the money is not wasted, the money has been spent delivering clean electricity and incentivising the product of photovoltaics."

Posted by Bob Dawson - News editor

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