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Eagle editorial: Reject Westar rate hike

  • Published Sunday, Sep. 22, 2013, at 12 a.m.

What Westar Energy wants from the Kansas Corporation Commission, Westar usually gets – with customers helpless to do anything but pay the resulting higher bills. However, the $31.7 million increase due for an evidentiary hearing Thursday shouldn’t be another open-and-shut rate case.

At July public hearings in Wichita and Topeka, speakers pointed out the unfairness of asking the residential users and small businesses among Westar’s 700,000 customers to pay 6 to 9 percent higher rates while cutting rates by 6 to 15 percent for large businesses and school districts. They weren’t persuaded by Westar’s contention that big commercial and industrial users pay more than it costs Westar to serve them, while residential and small-business customers pay less. According to the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the KCC twice has rejected the cost-allocation model that Westar is using to justify this revenue shift.

It’s also Westar’s 19th requested rate hike in the past four years, for almost $470 million total, and a follow-up to last year’s $50 million increase, which built in an unreasonably rich 10 percent shareholder profit.

And as CURB has argued, it is unfair to make Westar customers pay more than Kansas City Power & Light customers for the same costs of environmentally upgrading the La Cygne coal plant, which is co-owned by the companies.

Plus, KCC legal staff and CURB both object to Westar’s inclusion of proposals about assistance for low-income customers and rate discounts for businesses interested in coming to Kansas, in part because they are “outside the scope of the present abbreviated rate case proceeding,” in KCC staff’s words.

Customers have until Monday to weigh in on the rate case in writing (e-mail public.affairs@kcc.ks.gov) or by phone (800-662-0027 or 785-271-3140), before the courtlike hearing Thursday.

The case’s flaws seem clear. Deciding whether they’re fatal will be up to the KCC, which must issue a decision by Dec. 11.

At least one bit of regulatory business went residential and small-business customers’ way last week when the KCC allowed CURB to intervene in a separate case over $10.5 million in Westar rates. That overruled a pre-hearing officer’s determination that CURB hadn’t demonstrated its participation was necessary to protect the interests of consumers.

It should be routine for CURB to participate in utility cases – and has been until this year. The independent state agency’s name, and legislators’ intent in creating it in 1989, should be enough to keep CURB at the table for rate cases small and large.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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