Wichita area deserves a Westar rate-hike hearing. They’d better reserve a big space

A Westar worker handles a new power line to restore electricity.
A Westar worker handles a new power line to restore electricity. File photo

The Kansas Corporation Commission held a hearing in Topeka on Tuesday evening, listening to roughly 20 customers complain about Westar Energy’s latest proposal to raise electric rates.

It was the commission’s only scheduled opportunity for Kansans to voice concerns about another rate hike. A KCC official said a second hearing in the southern part of Kansas was possible, but that customers were encouraged to weigh in online, by mail or by phone.

C’mon, commissioners, head our way sometime soon. It’s best to hear frustrated, angry Westar customers in person.

Consumers aren’t just fed up with another rate hike, but also because there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation for many of Westar’s decisions.

This Westar request, which will be decided in late September, has parts that are like most other rate hikes proposed by the company. A $4 per month increase in base service charge may be the most controversial because it hits all customers regardless of power usage, a disproportionate effect on low-income families.

It also comes with a quirk not often seen with rate-hike requests: consumer bills will initially drop slightly because of Westar’s federal taxes going down from last year’s cuts. The KCC mandates savings be passed on to customers.

But that won’t last long, as Westar proposes a $52.6-million increase starting in February. The average consumer would see a monthly bill go up $5.91, or $2.80 if Westar’s proposed merger with Kansas City Power & Light is approved.

Kansas already pays more for electricity than neighboring states, and steps to keep costs down haven’t been adopted. The KCC denied a package of energy efficiency programs last year.

In the spring, the Kansas Senate passed a resolution encouraging the KCC to make rates more competitive. Westar’s current request doesn’t reflect lawmakers’ wishes.

Maybe the most unexplainable part of the request is an increase specifically on those who have purchased solar panels so that they use less electricity. Westar wants to add a charge for customers with home panels, reasoning those customers don’t pay their fair share because they’re buying less energy.

Tack on a fee to your most conscientious customers. Perfect.

Westar’s request will most likely be approved in some form. They almost always are — House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, argued Tuesday against a 31st rate hike over 11 years. Southern Kansas rates have gone up 43 percent since 2009.

But head down to Wichita soon anyway, KCC members. Westar customers in these parts deserve a face-to-face hearing.