Opinion Columns & Blogs

Electric rates require scrutiny

Electricity rates. You’ve probably noticed you’re paying more today. A lot more.

Kansas had some of the lowest electricity rates in the country a decade ago, but today our prices are higher than our neighboring states. We’re even higher than the national average of all states.

In fact, if you’re a Kansas City Power and Light customer, your bill increased 88.6 percent from 2007 to 2016. Westar North customers saw a 60-percent increase and Westar South customers saw a 43-percent increase from 2009-16, according to Kansas’ Consumer Utility Review Board.

Now Westar Energy is back before the Kansas Corporation Commission, asking for yet another rate increase. It’s expected KCP&L will bring their rate increase request in the coming weeks.

If approved, not only will every Westar Energy customer’s monthly service charge increase by $4 per month, it will also substantially change the economics for every residential customer who installed solar or wind since October 2015. For these folks, their bill will increase by approximately 50 percent.

These kinds of increases aren’t sustainable.

Failure to examine our rate structure and its impact on Kansas businesses to remain competitive is unacceptable. We have to act now.

The Kansas Legislature should require the Kansas Corporation Commission perform a comprehensive rate study before granting utilities another rate increase.

The state could have mitigated some of the high cost of electricity by implementing utility energy efficiency programs, like all of the other states in our region.

Last year, KCP&L asked the KCC to approve a suite of energy efficiency programs for their Kansas customers. While gaining approval in Missouri, the KCC rejected these programs. This ruling denied Kansas customers the opportunity to utilize cost-saving measures that folks in surrounding states can access, leaving ratepayers with higher bills.

This month, the Senate Commerce committee passed Resolution 1612, supporting regionally competitive retail electric rates and urging the KCC to take action to make prices more competitive. The resolution is a good first step, but for Kansans struggling to pay their high bills today and for current and future solar customers, the Westar rate case makes a non-binding resolution too little, too late.

Beyond the resolution and the adoption of energy efficiency programs, we need the Legislature to enact a policy requiring the Kansas Corporation Commission perform a comprehensive rate study before they say yes to another rate increase.

The study should provide a transparent and comprehensive look at ways to protect Kansans from run-away rate increases and establish a plan for our energy future that fosters competitive rates.

Until we understand our rate structure and have a plan for the future, Kansans shouldn’t be asked to bear one more rate increase.

Dorothy Barnett is executive director of the Clean Energy Business Council in Hutchinson.