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State rejects Westar proposal, saving customers an estimated $93 million

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Retired engineer Bruce Duckett shares his experience with the simplicity of having solar panels. He financed them with no money down, federal tax credits and a manufacturer's rebate. (Karen Nelson/The Sun Herald)

State utility regulators have rejected a request by Westar Energy to pass along the cost of buying 8 percent of the Jeffrey Energy Center, which could have cost electric customer an estimated $93 million over the next 15 years.

The Kansas Corporation Commission ruled that Westar doesn’t really need that extra power to meet customer demand and buying the share of the power plant didn’t meet Westar’s obligation to act prudently on behalf of customers.

“Customers should not pay for energy they do not need,” said the commission order, released Thursday. “The evidence supports the conclusion that Westar does not need this 8% portion of JEC to satisfy its current service and capacity needs.”

Westar “provided no evidence that the 8% will be needed at any point before 2035 to serve retail load,” the ruling continued.

Westar had been leasing the 8 percent share of Jeffrey Energy Center, near St. Marys, from its previous owner, Midwest Power.

The remaining 92 percent of the plant is owned by Westar and Kansas City Power & Light, which have merged and are currently transitioning to their new name, Evergy.

Westar purchased the 8 percent of Jeffrey through a complicate lease-purchase agreement. The sale closed on Aug. 2.

Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said the company is evaluating the commission order and would have no immediate comment on it.

However, she did say that the company is disputing a KCC staff estimate that the cost to customers would be $93 million.

She said that doesn’t account for any revenue Westar could make from selling the additional power to other utilities and savings the company could get from not having to buy power from other utilities to meet peak demands.

The ruling did say, however, that Westar can keep any profit it makes from selling the additional power to other companies, which would usually flow back to customers.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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