Your electric rates probably will drop instead of rise under a settlement reached between state agencies and Westar Energy.
The settlement, reached late Monday, would reverse Westar’s request for a $17 million rate increase and turn it into a $66 million rate cut, officials said.
The settlement still has to be approved by the three-member Kansas Corporation Commission. If it is, it will mark a quiet end to what has been a hotly contested fight over rates that brought about 200 angry customers and at least a dozen state lawmakers to recent public hearings in Wichita and Topeka.
Regular electric customers would see a decrease of about $4 a month on their bill under the settlement agreement, said David Nickel, consumer counsel for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the small state agency representing residential and small-business customers.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
The settlement also drops an effort by Westar to raise the basic per-month service charge, he said. Westar had proposed to increase that charge from the current $14.50 to $18.50 a month.
There could still be a fight over the future of solar energy in the state. The settlement would still allow a Westar request to charge an extra fee for customers who get some of their power from home solar panels.
In addition to CURB, the Kansas Corporation Commission staff, the Wichita school district and the Kansas Industrial Consumers group have joined in the settlement agreement, Nickel said.
The main holdouts are the Sierra Club, the Climate and Energy Project and other pro-solar groups advocating for Westar’s solar power customers.
Those customers produce some of their own electricity from solar panels. In general, they buy power from Westar when it’s dark or cloudy and sell power back to Westar when they produce more than their home needs.
Westar has been seeking to place what is called a demand charge on those customers.
The company says that’s justified because solar customers buy less power from Westar and thus don’t contribute as much to the maintenance of the power grid.
Dozens of angry customers argued at the public hearing that the demand charge would punish them for reducing pollution. They characterized it as an attempt by Westar to strangle home-based solar energy in its infancy to eliminate future competition.
Under the settlement, solar customers would pay $9 per kilowatt in the summer and $3 per kilowatt in winter for their highest one-hour kilowatt usage in a given month.
That could add about $27 to $36 to their summer bills.
Nickel said the company has agreed in the settlement to make that charge “revenue neutral” for existing customers. That means they won’t pay more as a class, although some will see bills go up and some will see decreases, depending on their individual usage pattern, he said.
“Some people (solar customers) are going to be really unhappy and some people are going to be somewhat happy,” he said.
He said it would be impossible to come to an agreement that would satisfy every consumer, but that the settlement is positive for the vast majority of the approximately 700,000 Westar customers CURB represents.