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KCC rejects Westar plan to disconnect some customers without last-chance visit

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, at 9:50 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, May 19, 2014, at 5:44 a.m.

Westar Energy customers who are behind on their electric bills will still get a knock on the door and a last chance to pay before they’re disconnected, state utility regulators decided Tuesday.

But that could change later as the company rolls out more advanced digital electric meters that allow Westar to turn service off or on from a central office without sending an employee to a customer’s house. About 60,000 of Westar’s 700,000 customers have the newer meters.

Under current Kansas Corporation Commission rules, a utility worker who goes to shut off a customer’s service must knock on the door and give the customer a chance to pay the bill before disconnecting them, according to KCC documents. Westar sought to have that requirement waived for customers with advanced digital electric meters.

KCC staff members recommended against the change, saying it would not be fair to create two sets of disconnection rules based on which type of meter Westar installed at a customer’s home.

“Just because Westar has the technical ability to disconnect the meter remotely does not mean it is appropriate to grant this request for a waiver,” said a staff report by Michael Wegner, chief of energy operations, and Jeff McClanahan, director of utilities. “This creates an unfair condition, wherein one group of customers has the option to make payments in the moment and another group of customers has this option removed from them merely because of the advancement of technology.”

The staff also said it was unclear from Westar’s filings whether the company would continue to charge $20 to reconnect service for customers with digital meters.

Commissioners Thomas Wright and Shari Feist Albrecht both voted to reject Westar’s request. The third commissioner, Chairman Mark Sievers, did not attend the meeting.

Both Wright and Feist Albrecht said the commission could reconsider such a request in the future when more of the old-style meters have been replaced with the advanced models.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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