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Solar panels bungle to cost taxpayers millions
Synergy entered nearly 5000 solar systems into its database but failed to record the size of each one. Picture: Getty Images

Bureaucratic bungling and inaction in the top echelons of the Barnett Government allowed a solar panel scheme to blow out, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the next decade.

The solar feed-in tariff scheme, which saw households paid for excess energy generated by rooftop panels, was suspended on August 1 by Premier Colin Barnett after a front page story in _The West Australian _ revealed industry concerns that the scheme was nearing its 150MW capacity cap.

The cap was imposed to stop the cost spiralling out of control.

Documents obtained by the Labor Opposition reveal that Energy Minister Peter Collier's office knew the cap had been reached as early as June 28 - but the Government did nothing to shut the scheme.

The emails show Mr Collier's then chief-of-staff Darren Brown expressed concerns as early as June 8 that the scheme might be out of control. Mr Brown asked the Office of Energy for an explanation of how the cap was being monitored.

"Is it possible that we will reach the cap and not know about it for some time," Mr Brown wrote.

On June 27, Mr Brown told a meeting of ministerial chiefs of staff that the cap had already been reached. The Government did nothing to close the scheme until _The West Australian's _ story was published on August 1.

Compounding the problems of keeping track of the scheme, electricity retailer Synergy entered nearly 5000 solar systems into its database but failed to record the size of each one.

An Office of Energy briefing note to Mr Collier, dated November 8, said revised data after the error was detected suggested 194MW of capacity had been accepted into the scheme at an extra cost of $57 million over its 10-year life.

Shadow energy minister Bill Johnston said Mr Collier needed to explain why he had "hidden the facts". "Minister Collier has not been honest with the people of WA, he has not been frank about the chaos in his office and the Office of Energy," he said.

"These documents show WA taxpayers have had to pay far more than they needed to under this poorly managed program."

Despite the document trail, Mr Collier said "there was no reliable evidence" to support suspending the scheme earlier.

He said he had "absolutely not" tried to conceal the truth and cited Cabinet confidentiality for not revealing the true picture.

"There is no doubt mistakes have been made in implementing the scheme," he said. "However, issues with feed-in tariff schemes are not unique to WA and don't detract from the fact that we have 76,000 households producing their own renewable energy and reducing their household electricity bills." <div class="endnote">

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