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Phil set to dial up a gas operation

ALINTAGAS is considering entering either WA’s electricity or telecommunications market.

The newly floated utility’s CEO Phil Harvey said it would be considering its options to increase shareholder value and electricity is certainly one of those.

Its cornerstone investor the Utilicorp United-United Energy has a significant interest in the eastern state’s electricity market. It also has interests in the telecommunications business.

Mr Harvey said there were some special circumstances surrounding WA’s electricity market.

“We want to be clear on the rules about deregulation of the market,” he said.

“At the moment the Government doesn’t have any plans to deregulate the market down to residential level, which is where we can make the most of it.”

Energy Minister Colin Barnett recently announced that from 2003 customers using 34 kilowatts of electricity per year will be allowed to choose their supplier of choice.

A suburban supermarket would draw that sort of load.

Besides considering the company’s future, Mr Harvey said he was happy to have its float behind him.

After debuting at $2.75, AlintaGas shares are trading around $3.14.

“We went through a trade sale first to sell off 45 per cent of the company,” Mr Harvey said.

“Then after that we went through the public float process to sell off the remainder.

“The Minister announced the sale of AlintaGas in 1998 and we’ve spent a lot of time since then focussing on the sale rather than the business.

“It’s great to get the sale behind us and to be able to concentrate on the business.”

Mr Harvey has been with the utility all of his working life, joining the then State Electricity Commission as an electrical engineering cadet in 1961.

In those days Government departments would take on cadets and pay their way through university. In return, the cadet would be indentured to work for the department for several years.

In Mr Harvey’s case, the period of indenture was four years.

“I never intended to stay beyond the four years but then I started getting involved in some interesting projects,” he said.

“After nearly 40 years I finally made it into the private sector,” Mr Harvey joked.

After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree he started becoming involved with business project investigation.

In 1975, the Government set up the State Energy Commission – an amalgamation of the State Electricity Commission and the Fuel and Power Commission. The FPC had been formed in response to the oil shock of 1973.

The new SEC was designed to advise the Government on all aspects of energy.

“In the 1970s we blossomed from being involved in electricity to being involved in all sorts of things,” Mr Harvey said.

In the mid 1980s he became involved with all of the fuel buying and electricity contracts of the SEC. This involved him in the North West Shelf Gas contracts.

However, the utility went through a number of traumas with WA Inc. and was then broken up in 1995 following recommendations from the Carnegie report.

“In the middle of 1994 I was appointed to head up the new gas utility. It didn’t even have a name then.”

The name Alinta was drawn from an Aboriginal dialect and means “controlled flame”.

“When we were set up in 1995 we had three businesses. We owned the Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline, the gas networks in Perth and country areas and the gas buying and selling business,” Mr Harvey said.

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