Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Sparks fly in electric rate talks

July 21, 2000


— City officials here have demanded that they be included in negotiations over electric rates across the state, but Topeka wasn't represented during the last day of talks.

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Corporation Commission insists the KCC's staff sent a letter about the meeting to Topeka's attorney. That attorney's partner insisted Wednesday that the firm never got such a notice.

Whatever happened, no one representing the city was present on July 13, when officials from the KCC, the city of Wichita, Western Resources and a group of Kansas industries attended the discussions.

Wichita officials want to force Western, the state's largest electric company, to make rates equal across the state. Topeka Mayor Joan Wagnon contends that Wichita's push would increase rates in northeast Kansas.

Customers of Western's KGE subsidiary in southeast and south-central Kansas pay about 25 percent more for their electricity than do customers of Western's KPL subsidiary in northeast Kansas.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had been trying to get the parties to settle their dispute, but months of negotiations failed to produce an agreement. A FERC judge then turned the negotiations over to the KCC.

On June 29, John Frieden, an attorney for Topeka, sent a letter to the KCC protesting its plans to hold closed-door negotiating sessions and demanding that Topeka be included if talks were convened.

"Structuring deals outside the view of the public does a disservice to all citizens of Kansas," Frieden wrote.

Records show that a notice of the July 13 meeting was hand-carried to the post office and mailed to Frieden four days before the meeting, said KCC spokeswoman Rosemary Foreman.

"All the other parties seemed to have received their letters," she said.

Frieden has been on vacation in Colorado, but he left representation of Topeka to a partner, Kevin Fowler. Fowler said he has been watching the mail every day and had the firm's staff "turn everything upside down," looking for a notice Wednesday.

"I'm satisfied that we never got it," Fowler said. "Had we received that notice, we would have attended."

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