Westar Energy seeking rate hike for homes, cuts for businesses

Westar Energy is proposing to increase the transmission rate on residential customers’ bills by about 31 percent, while cutting most business rates, according to a rate request being considered by the Kansas Corporation Commission.

The changes would add about $4 a month to the average customer’s bill, while cutting the average small-business bill by about $31.

Midsize businesses would see about a 1 percent increase in their transmission rate, while the largest commercial and industrial customers would get a 4 percent cut. Schools are proposed to get a 29-percent increase.

In total, the proposed changes represent about a $25 million a year increase in income for Westar.

That’s in addition to a $78 million general rate increase that the KCC passed in September, adding about $5 to $7 to the average residential customer’s bills.

$25 millionAmount of rate increase requested by Westar Energy

$78 millionRate increase Westar received in September

The change is proposed to the transmission charge, which is broken out as a separate line item on customers’ bills. The Legislature passed a bill in 2007 authorizing the charge, which is recalculated on a yearly basis outside the regular rate-setting process.

The money collected pays for what Westar spends to transmit power to customers, plus, at present, 11.3 percent extra for profit for Westar stockholders.

Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said the rebalancing of rates between customer classes is one of the results of last year’s rate case.

This year, the transmission charge is now being calculated based on a study of how much of the peak electric load each customer class uses, she said. Residential customers use the most power during peak periods, so they pay the highest increase.

It was unclear Tuesday whether and how much representation residential and small-business customers will have when the KCC considers the proposal.

So far, only two interests have been granted intervention in the case: Occidental Chemical Corp., which runs a chemical plant in Wichita and is Westar’s largest customer, and the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, which is tasked by state law with representing residential and small-business customers.

CURB has been in a state of flux since December, when longtime consumer counsel David Springe resigned.

Since then, his interim replacement, Niki Christopher, a 15-year veteran of the agency, was fired by the CURB board after sending a strongly worded e-mail critical of the board’s decision to forbid her from talking to the Legislature or news media.

CURB’s economist and rate analyst, Stacey Harden, also resigned and her last day is Thursday.

CURB chairwoman Ellen Janoski said the agency hasn’t formulated a position yet on the transmission rates.

Under state law, the KCC has to decide the case within 30 business days of the day it was filed, Feb. 15. The planned start date for the new rates is April 1, according to Westar’s application.

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)

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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