Regulators approve Westar Energy’s $43.6 million rate hike

State regulators granted Westar Energy a $43.6 million rate increase Thursday to pay for increased costs of delivering power through the transmission system.

Homeowners who use 900 kilowatt hours will pay about $2.59 more a month for their electricity, according to calculations by the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency that represents residential and small-business customers on utility issues.

Owners of larger homes using about 1,500 kilowatt hours will see their monthly bills rise about $4.32 due to the increase, according to CURB.

The increased costs are related to building new transmission lines, some to bring Kansas wind power to market, some to improve reliability of the system and some to handle transmission between states.

Under state law, Westar and other utilities can request separate increases annually to compensate for increases in transmission, environmental, property tax and energy-efficiency costs.

Those costs are broken out as separate charges on customers’ bills.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, which sets utility rates for most of the state’s consumers, is required by law to approve the annual requests for transmission costs within 30 days of when they are filed, subject to a review for accuracy.

“I can’t even put this one on the commission,” said David Springe, chief consumer counsel for CURB. “This was a statute the Legislature set up.”

The KCC staff recommended the commission approve Westar’s filing, which was made on Feb. 18 and is scheduled to take effect April 2.

The staff has conducted a “cursory review” of the filing, but doesn’t expect to finish its full audit of Westar’s transmission costs until about the end of May, according to documents filed in the case by KCC Litigation Counsel Judy Jenkins.

If the audit eventually does find errors, the rates could be changed again and refunds provided to customers, according to the commission’s order.

Springe said CURB will also review the filing, but held out little hope that the increase will drop by much, if at all.

“The calculations are usually pretty clean,” he said. “Even if we do find some errors, I don’t expect that to be substantial” in terms of lowering rates.

Counting Thursday’s transmission rate hike, Westar’s annual rates have been increased $513.8 million since 2009, Springe said.

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