Energy Minister Mike Nahan

The chairman and two-thirds of the board of electricity utility Synergy have quit in protest as the Barnett Government slipped into disarray on energy policy.

Synergy, with nearly $3 billion of publicly owned assets under its management, was left without a quorum at board level for 10 days after chairman Mike Smith resigned on July 14 - three days after deputy chairman Eric Hooper and board members Margaret Seares and Keith Spence quit on July 11. All four are highly respected veterans of the WA business community.

The Government did not announce the resignations but word leaked from industry sources yesterday, prompting the Opposition to accuse Energy Minister Mike Nahan of a cover-up.

The directors who quit were measured in public comments yesterday. Mr Smith confirmed his resignation after Dr Nahan "indicated he would look at another model of chairmanship".

Dr Nahan admitted on radio that the alternative model was to install an executive chairman - something Mr Smith disagreed with and which Dr Nahan said he had now abandoned.

Ms Seares told _The West Australian _: "I don't support the (minister's) proposed changes to the governance structures. I think the organisation was going in the right direction."

The mass walkout comes amid uncertainty over Government plans for the energy market, in which Synergy, which merged on January 1 with generation company Verve, is dominant.

At least one board member believes Dr Nahan still wants to split Synergy into competing "gen-tailer" (generators, retailers) companies, which could be sold to the public sector.

Dr Nahan outlined such a plan in September but was rebuked by the Premier days later.

Dr Nahan yesterday denied telling industry participants he wanted to sell two "gen-tailers" to private Australian power companies Origin and AGL.

Remaining Synergy board members Michael Goddard and Mark Chatfield were appointed by Dr Nahan when a new merged board was announced last July.

Mr Chatfield, a former Western Power executive, has argued the utility should be split and sold.

A draft review into the energy market commissioned by Dr Nahan is with Mr Barnett's office. It is understood to canvass splitting Synergy into "gen-tailers".

Mr Barnett appeared yesterday to pre-empt the review's release, saying a split would not happen.

The West Australian

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