Western Power profit drops, legal problems continue

ALMOST four weeks after the West Australian state election, the Gallop Government has revealed that publicly owned utility Western Power has had a big decline in profits due to the cost of emergency measures taken to avoid blackouts, Perth newspaper The West Australian reports.

Despite having a $40m increase in electricity sales during the six months to December 31 2004, Western Power’s profits dropped by $8m to $108m. The fall was due to the cost of leasing generators ($6.6m) and importing oil ($71m) to deal with the risk of summer blackouts.

The results were sent to previous energy minister Eric Ripper on 11 February, two weeks before the WA election.

In the past Western Power has made its interim trading results public when they were sent to the energy minister. But the latest results were only made public after The West Australian asked new minister Alan Carpenter for them yesterday.

Western Power told The West Australian that its board had decided last year that for the first time the minister would announce the results.

Ripper’s office told the newspaper that the government had not deliberately delayed releasing the report until after the election.

A spokesman said the report arrived at Ripper’s office on 14 February and had been referred to the Office of Energy for advice. The report had arrived back on 3 March.

In other news, Western Power has been found responsible for the deaths of four West Australians – two women killed in a bushfire caused by faulty power lines, and two children electrocuted when they touched a poorly maintained aerial attachment when trying to retrieve a frisbee from the roof of their house.

Western Power on Wednesday pleaded guilty in Perth Magistrate's Court to a charge of failing to maintain its service apparatus in a safe condition.

The utility also pleaded guilty to four other charges relating to linesmen improperly connecting the aerial conductor during service work and transposing the neutral and active conductors after reconnecting installations.

It was fined a total of $75,000 for the breaches.

The mother of two children , Nicole Griggs, said she was considering suing Western Power over their deaths.

She believes the penalty was inadequate and wants a coronial inquest to compel Western Power to meet its maintenance responsibilities.

Western Power managing director Tony Iannello said the utility deeply regretted the tragedy and no longer used the component that caused the children's deaths.

“We have thoroughly investigated this tragedy and reviewed and modified our work practices," Iannello said.

WA electricity and gas regulator Energy Safety said Western Power had pleaded not guilty to two other charges brought by the regulator relating to electricity supply and the utility was due to appear in court again on March 22 and March 24.