Politics & Government

Utilities board debates who should pay for charging stations for electric cars

The Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board on Tuesday aired strong concerns over a Kansas City power company’s move to raise rates for all its customers to pay for hundreds of stations for recharging batteries in electric cars.

The issue arose Tuesday at a CURB meeting over a case involving Kansas City Power & Light, which is installing about 1,000 charging stations in its service territory – more than 300 on the Kansas side of the state line with Missouri – and now wants to add that cost to its base rates.

Tommy Connors, a newly hired consumer attorney at CURB, told the board that raises two issues: whether the Kansas City metro area even needs that many charging stations, and whether it would result in regular home and business customers being unfairly charged to subsidize owners of electric cars.

“That would be my question, is why shouldn’t the users of the charging stations pay the cost of the charging stations?” asked board member Henry Hungerbeeler.

That question seemed to sum up the consensus of the CURB board.

Board member Bob Hall went a step further, arguing that electric car owners should have to pay higher rates if they recharge during peak daytime hours instead of recharging at night in their garages.

KCP&L officials with direct knowledge of the case could not be reached for comment after the board meeting late Tuesday. When questioned, a company spokeswoman cited testimony KCP&L officials have filed in the case.

That testimony acknowledged that some customers will end up paying costs for equipment they will never use, but said that’s common in utility rates.

In addition, the company officials said all customers in the Kansas City area will benefit from reduced smog and increased electricity sales that help cover the fixed costs of providing power.

Overall, KCP&L is spending about $16.6 million on developing its charging station network, about $5.6 million of that in Kansas, according to testimony from Darrin Ives, KCP&L’s director of regulatory affairs.

Maintaining the charging stations is projected to cost $250,000 a year, split proportionately between Missouri and Kansas customers.

While the case at hand is KCP&L specific, the decisions made by the Kansas Corporation Commission will likely guide future cases as charging stations become more common in the rest of Kansas, including Wichita.

Under KCP&L’s plan, electric car users will get free electricity at the charging stations for the rest of this year, paid for by the businesses that host the stations on their property, Ives’ testimony said.

After that, the drivers will pay to recharge their cars using a special debit card at a rate roughly equivalent to buying gasoline at $1.40 a gallon.

Hungerbeeler said electric car users are already getting a free ride on public roads, and he has problems with subsidizing the charging stations on top of that.

“Gas and diesel fuel taxes are considered user fees, they are used to build roads,” Hungerbeeler said. “Owners of electric vehicles are not paying fuel taxes. They’re using the roads that somebody else is paying for.

“Why should somebody else also pay for their electricity?”

In his testimony, Ives acknowledged “there are some customers who will be paying in their rates for the facilities who will not be using the facilities.”

But, he continued, “This phenomenon is inherent in utility ratemaking, which is why the statutes only prohibit unreasonably discriminatory or unduly preferential rates. Although I am not an attorney … I feel comfortable representing that rates will not be unreasonably discriminatory or unduly preferential, even if there were some subsidy involved.”

KCP&L, CURB and other parties to the case will be filing briefs through the summer with a final decision expected by the KCC in September.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas