AlintaGas gears up for bigger stake in energy market

A SURPRISE management change at AlintaGas is looming as the first tremor in WA’s electricity sector as it braces for seismic change under the new Labor Government’s plan to fully open the retail energy market.

Just a few months since taking the gas utility through privatisation to a listing on the stock market Phil Harvey has been replaced as CEO by Bob Browning, a representative of corner-stone investor Utilicorp United’s with a strong retail background.

AlintaGas has made little secret of its ambition to become a full energy retailer rather than just a gas seller and chairman Tony Howarth confirmed that this week, telling Business News the change of management allowed the company to better take advantage of new opportunities.

Mr Howarth was referring to market changes announced by Labor Energy Minister Eric Ripper, who wants to see competition in the retail market and plans to break up Western Power.

“I think what (Eric) Ripper’s announced is very positive for competition,” he said.

The Labor Government proposes giving all electricity customers freedom to choose their own supplier by 2005.

The Coalition Government only proposed deregulating the market down to customers using 0.034 megawatts.

Should total electricity market deregulation come sooner, AlintaGas is well placed.

It already has the customer service infrastructure to go head to head with WA electricity utility Western Power.

AlintaGas also has the ability to enter into cogeneration projects, either as a gas supplier to the plant or as a generator operator.

But no other company can sell gas into AlintaGas’ WA market for another three years, thanks to the terms signed when the utility was floated.

An AlintaGas spokesman said the company would consider opportunities outside of WA.

“We will look at all opportunities to grow the AlintaGas business,” he said.

Mr Harvey said he had expected AlintaGas cornerstone investor United Energy-Utilicorp United to want its own CEO in place.

“I’d always said I would move on in a couple of years. That move just came a couple of years earlier,” he said.

Mr Harvey will be staying within WA’s energy sector. He remains chairman of the Australian Gas Association.

“I’m not ready to leave the energy business just yet,” he said.

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