Westar seeks to spread cost of credit card utility payments to all customers

08/21/2014 11:25 AM

08/21/2014 7:28 PM

Westar Energy wants to eliminate its service fee for customers who pay utility bills with a credit card and spread the cost of processing credit transactions across all customers, according to state records.

On Thursday, the Kansas Corporation Commission approved a technical order to allow the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency that advocates for residential and small-business customers, to intervene in the case.

At present, customers who pay their Westar bill with plastic also pay an additional $2.95 per payment, according to commission documents.

Westar wants to eliminate that fee on residential customers because of changing consumer expectations, brought about by online commerce sites such as Amazon and Apple, said written testimony by Jeffrey Beasley, Westar’s vice president for customer care.

“More consumers are utilizing credit cards as their primary method of paying recurring bills and are not accustomed to paying an additional fee for using a credit card,” Beasley testified. “Offering this payment option as a zero fee payment method will increase customer satisfaction.”

In 2013, only 5 percent of Westar customers paid with credit cards. Based on experiences of other utilities that have eliminated direct card service fees, Westar expects that to rise to about 20 percent within two years of approval, Beasley testified.

That would add about $2 million to Westar’s general residential rates spread across all customers, he testified.

Although CURB is joining the case on consumers’ behalf, the agency hasn’t decided whether to support or oppose the change Westar proposed, said David Springe, chief consumer counsel.

On one hand there’s a question of fairness over making customers pay for an option they don’t personally use. On the other, there are pooled costs in any utility where the entire customer group shoulders the cost of providing services that not everyone uses, but everyone has access to, he said.

“Is it (the change proposed by Westar) the right thing to do now? I don’t really know yet,” he said. “I’ll have to sit and look at it and maybe take it to my board.”

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

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