Premier Colin Barnett has reopened a can of worms about the future of State-owned utilities Verve Energy and Synergy, refusing yesterday to rule out a re-merger of the electricity generator and retailer.

Unveiling his new Cabinet, Mr Barnett, who in the past has had a major say in energy policy, said the much-debated issue was a matter for new Energy Minister Mike Nahan but that the Government would look at industry structure.

"We'll certainly look at the structure of (Verve and Synergy). One of Mike's prime tasks will be to reduce the cost of the operations of our energy system and there is no silver bullet, there is no magic solution, but we can drive costs down," Mr Barnett said.

But the statement immediately raised questions about the future of the two agencies, with Mr Nahan - who was unavailable for comment yesterday - a strong proponent in the past of privatising State-owned utilities alongside reforms to promote competition and lower prices.

Some industry figures have argued the Government could remerge Verve and Synergy with an eye to an eventual sale, or a split into two competing integrated utilities or "gentailers", a move that has not, to date, been on the Barnett Government's radar.

In the 1990s, when head of the pro-market Institute of Public Affairs, Mr Nahan urged privatisation of the then merged State-owned electricity utility SECWA. "The existing system is broke and needs fixing," he said then. "It is hoped that privatisation will provide in part at least such a fix."

However, Mr Barnett yesterday stridently ruled out Mr Nahan's avowed support for nuclear power, saying the atomic option would "not happen in my lifetime".

Industry groups welcomed Mr Nahan's appointment, along with new Mines and Housing Minister Bill Marmion, Agriculture Minister Ken Baston, Commerce Minister Michael Mischin and Environment Minister Albert Jacob.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Chamber of Minerals and Energy urged a swift cut in red tape, and a promised expansion of the Mines Department's online approvals tracking system to the water and environment agencies.

The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association paid homage to outgoing Mines Minister Norman Moore, and backed further support for hydrogeological investigations in the gas-rich onshore Canning Basin.

Association of Mining & Exploration Companies chief Simon Bennison said he hoped the exploration incentive scheme would continue. The Sustainable Energy Association wanted a greater commitment to renewables, and WAFarmers welcomed a dedicated minister for agriculture position.

The West Australian

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