Archive for Monday, June 18, 2007

Westar charge shocks family

Homeowner gets instructions, bill for burying own power line

A vehicle's lights create a blur past the power lines and entrance to Westar Energy.

A vehicle's lights create a blur past the power lines and entrance to Westar Energy.

June 18, 2007


Late last month, Toni Dudley's lights went out at her home at 3033 Campfire Drive.

A crew from Westar Energy came out and determined that the underground electrical line from the pole to the meter had become water-saturated and failed.

The crew set up a temporary, above-ground line, but Westar informed Dudley she had 30 days to dig a three-foot-deep trench and bury the new line in a conduit. If she didn't take care of it, they would disconnect the temporary line.

The company left written, detailed instructions on how this was to be done, and that it would require hiring an electrician.

Westar supplies the line, but the customer must pay for the burial and to have the line covered in conduit.

The job will cost Dudley at least $1,500 and possibly more.

"I just don't see this as very consumer-friendly," Dudley said. And, she said, while the expense is a hassle for her family, it would be a major headache for senior citizens or low-income families.

Disputed costs

Westar, the largest electric utility in Kansas, used to pay for this kind of job in its northern region, which includes Lawrence, but the company shed that responsibility after changes approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission late last year, according to Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for Westar.

The changes had been part of an effort to merge different rules and regulations from the separate companies - KG&E; and KPL - that now make up Westar.

"It was a business decision," Penzig said, although she said she didn't know how much the company used to spend on burying underground lines.

"Normally we don't see many underground lines failing, but this year we have seen a higher number than usual, maybe because of the rain," Penzig said.

KCC spokeswoman Rosemary Foreman, however, disputes some of Penzig's assertions.

Foreman said in Westar's northern territory, for customers with underground lines, it always has been their responsibility to pay the difference in cost between replacing an underground line and overhead line. The new rules approved by the KCC just made that clearer, she said.

"It was not clearly spelled out that the customer was responsible for the digging and any required conduit," she said.

Foreman said consumers actually made out better through the new rules because now Westar must provide more electrical line than before at no cost. The old rule limited the free replacement line to 60 feet, while the new one expanded that to 135 feet.

Underground vs. overhead

For homes with overhead lines, Westar generally replaces those at no direct cost to the customer.

Dudley says the cost to replace underground lines should be borne by all ratepayers.

But Foreman said that would be unfair to customers with overhead lines.

"It gets back to equity issues. Why should all ratepayers pay all those additional costs (for an underground line)? We try to establish the rules and regs so that they are equitable as much as possible," she said.

But Dudley wondered what Westar is doing with charges included in her monthly bill called transmission charges and customer charges.

Penzig said transmission charges are levied to cover costs when Westar has to transmit power on another company's lines. The customer charge is used to improve service.

Penzig said she hasn't received any other complaints about the underground line replacements costs, and that Westar is more than happy to try to make accommodations for people who have trouble paying the costs.

For her part, once the job is finished, Dudley said she will have a party to put the issue behind her.

"We will do the Electric Slide, have readings from the "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," and music by the Electric Light Orchestra," she said.

And, she said, she plans to invite executives from Westar.


Martin_D_15 10 years, 5 months ago

Westar has to do this to help out former CEO David Wittig! You know, Wittig was only making 53 million bucks a year and that isn't much for a CEO these days.

This is the same, crappy service that you should expect from Westar, they do NOT care about people or their product. They just want to screw the people of Kansas like the big oil companies!

p.s. I hope Wittig stays in prison for a VERY LONG TIME ! ! !

KS 10 years, 5 months ago

Martin_D_15 - First, Wittig is out of jail and stands a very good chance of not returning. That is another story and I do not support the man by making that comment. Second, I am not defending Westar either, but if you build a house and underground wiring is required, the home builder pays for it. Third, I was required to do the same thing with cable one time. Not in Lawrence, but that is sort of the way things are. My argument is that if it is on "their side" of the meter, it is "their problem". Not sure of the policy of the water department.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 5 months ago

Better keep a closer eye on that political group known as Kansas Corporation Commission. Thet need to make the right decisions to keep special interest campaign money flowing. I often wonder what do stockholders think about a CEO that skims 53 million dollars off the top?

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compmd 10 years, 5 months ago

I don't know if this is true for any towns in Kansas, but there are places where underground power lines are required either by zoning or municipal ordinance. Where I grew up, the village forced the utility companies to provide service at no direct additional charge underground. Telephone and cable were included in that protocol.

Why should Westar force a homeowner to use an underground line simply because that is what was present before? Why can't the homeowner have an above ground line if there is clearly no technical limitation? The electrical power transmission infrastructure is the PROPERTY of Westar. When they install a line, it is THEIR line. It is extremely consumer unfriendly to let the infrastructure fail and instruct users of it to deal with it. Then again, the concept of "consumer protection" doesn't really exist in Kansas.

terrapin2 10 years, 5 months ago

Martin D & Sunshine: OMG! First of all, Wittig was never paid $53M for just one year's worth of work so I'm not sure where you pulled that number from, nor was Wittig charged with "skimming money off the top". There weren't any fraudulent accounting practices, or the 'cooked books' that were so often referred to in the Enron trial and other high profile CEO trials. Furthermore, Westar isn't allowed to pass along their expenses related to the Wittig/Lake directly to the customers. Talk to a representative from KCC and have them explain this to you.

And since these were changes that the KCC allowed Westar to make "late last year" I think it is safe to say that you can no longer pin any of these issues on Wittig since he left the company nearly five years ago!!! Instead you should direct your rage at Jim Haines who was CEO of Westar when this change was made!

Bowhunter: Your comment might apply to someone who has built a home and request to have their power line buried, but for those of us like myself who purchased a home in Lawrence in a neighborhood where all of the power lines are buried it isn't a matter of choosing to have underground power lines. That's just the way it is. And quite frankly, I'm glad. It's nice not to have the eye-sore of overhead power lines, and I don't have to worry about one of our trees knocking out our power, or me getting electrocuted with my ladder, tree trimmer, etc.

sourpuss 10 years, 5 months ago

I don't know, seems clear-cut to me. Underground lines are optional, so if you have them, you pay for them.

What people should be asking is why did the underground line fail? How old was the original line (Campfire Drive seems like a reasonably new development)? Why would it have failed in such a short time? Was the builder at fault for using improper conduit? These are the questions that should be asked, not what Westar's very clear policy is. Ask the REAL quesstions, LJW! They are far more interesting!

Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho 10 years, 5 months ago

Westar provided instructions on how to bury the cable, so get out there and start digging. Why are we Americans so afraid of manual labor? I remember the old days when everybody mowed their own lawns, changed their own oil and cleaned their own houses. Now they pay other people to do it for them. What's the matter? Afraid you might get a blister? Now grab the shovel and dig that trench!

Nick Combs 10 years, 5 months ago

Oh, I get it! Because it's Westar and they're an electrical company, this family is SHOCKED! Get it? Electricity shocks you! Hahaha! Oh the humor! LJ World, you kill me!

btw, man up Nancy and pay to bury the line Westar.

Christine Pennewell Davis 10 years, 5 months ago

well i for one have a healthy fear of electric lines. Do power companys not tell you not to touch power lines and call before you dig and all tha stuff then they tell this woman to did and rebury the electric line herself? Seems linda weird. Not to mention lazy on their part.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 5 months ago

"None of which has anything to do with the cost of underground service lines, Richard. But nice attempt at thread hijack anyway."

Considering the vacuous, content-free nature of most of your posts, I find your thread-highjacking by stalking Merrill to be just a tad hypocritical.

cantbelievemyeyes 10 years, 5 months ago

I notice that she has no problem with forking out the money for a big party. This cost is supposedly such a big deal for her to pay but she has extra money for Partying? hmmmmm. Besides, underground lines are optional. That is explained when you build in the first place. If she bought the house and it was this way, that goes along with house expenses, deal with it. Everyone should not be responsible to pay for other peoples optional service.

Baille 10 years, 5 months ago

Look, Bowhunter, I don't see this as anything other than unanticipated home maintenance costs. Welcome to owning a home, you know? But once again, misplaced zeal has resulted in you mistating the facts of the article.

"Burying power lines is not a neccesity:. they clearly explain to everyone that they will provide you a FREE above ground line. Once YOU choose an underground power line, its maintenance cost is yours. stop whining and maintain what you chose and agreed upon."

That is not what the article said. Westar used to pay for this. That was the deal. It was part of the informed decision a homeowner made: if anything went wrong Westar would pay to fix the underground line just like an overhead line. Westar chose to change the deal - it changed the agreement. It did so last year. Now homeowenrs with buried cables have to pay to get them repaired if anything goes wrong. I don't remember Westar informing its subscribers of this change. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. If they didn't, they certainly should have by using a medium reasonably calculated to fully inform affected subscribers.

Rightoues indignation has its place, and it can be loads of fun, but before one can be righteous one must be right.

gccs14r 10 years, 5 months ago

All lines should be underground so that the power stays up when the wind blows. Westar should encourage buried lines so that their maintenance and repair costs go down.

DaveR 10 years, 5 months ago

Contractor cheating is a possibility. I once lived in a row of new townhouses. After about ten years, they all leaked around the windows. Nobody could figure out why. When we sold & got out of that mess, I had a jobber take off the siding, to discover: No flashing. Only caulk. Result: 100 soggy homes. I had him caulk all around mine, so my buyer was good for another ten years or so. But no, I didn't tell him.

So I suggest the Dudleys take a piece of the old cable to a qualified electrician & find out if it was up to code to start with.

nytemayr 10 years, 5 months ago

I take it Dudley is only paying the difference between the cost of overhead construction versus the cost of underground construction? Also, can you buy coverage for this type of water damage under a homeowners policy? I would think the city of Lawrence could possibly purchase this additional service from Westar as part of the franchise agreement and collect a special fee to cover the liability. Personally, I think the homeowners insurance option would the best path to take but I'm not sure its available. I feel your pain Toni but take some deep breaths and let you head cool a bit. You may be able to deduct the lost on your 2007 taxes. I'd check it out. Increase your rainy day savings for these unexpected blessings in life. Hang in there my friend.

nekansan 10 years, 5 months ago

My question becomes, if this is truly about equity for the ratepayer, why should a homeowner that has an underground line be forced as a ratepayer to cover the replacement of an above ground line on other homeowners houses that is much more prone to damage from winds, branches and the elements?

bender 10 years, 5 months ago

Seems like this is the same deal as with water lines, if the line blows between the street meter and your house, it is your responsibility to fix it. And the city doesn't come out and set up a temporary line, you're just out of water until you get the problem fixed. Slow news day.

rhd99 10 years, 5 months ago

WESTAR built those stinken power lines themselves. The homeowners did NOT! Westar can jolly well do it themselves at their own cost! SCREW WITTIG!

Redzilla 10 years, 5 months ago

Nowhere in the article does it say that Duncan's home requires an underground line. If that is the case, then an underground line is just something Duncan wants, not something she needs. If she doesn't want to pay for it, let her have the free aboveground line, like most homeowners do. Why the sense of entitlement?

rhd99 10 years, 5 months ago

Well, being self-righteous is something at which WITTIG excels. How 'bout forcing him to do community service hours by hanging from a belt & dismantling the power lines at HIS own cost. That'll drop his ego ten-fold. Oh, I forgot, he has no humility.

Wilbur_Nether 10 years, 5 months ago

rhd99 wrote "WESTAR built those stinken power lines themselves. The homeowners did NOT! Westar can jolly well do it themselves at their own cost!"

Which conclusion follows from faulty premises. First, the contractor who built the house built the connecting line--not Westar. Second, the homeowner also owns the connecting lines--not Westar. Third, since Westar owns the power grid but the homeowner owns the connectors, Westar is responsible for problems with the lines that go by the house and the homeowner is responsible for the lines that go to/in the house. Fourth, Westar may do the work "at their own cost," but will in reality spread the cost of the work across all their it would be at all our costs.

Baille 10 years, 5 months ago

"Why the sense of entitlement?"

Maybe because that was the original agreement. Westar agreed to maintain the lines all the way to the wall and then last year changed that agreement in regards to buried cable.

Why is everyone getting a wedgie over this? Westar changed its policy. This lady is having to pay $1500 in unexpected costst. It would have been nice to have a little notice. Thank god, she isn't some old person or someone on SSDI who needs to electricity to keep her ventilator going. She is letting everyone know about the change in policy that is costing her $1500 and, hey, by the way she is going to throw a party and invite the executives at Westar who aren't in jail yet to come by for punch and silly dances.

For those of us whose buried cables work, this is a good story to let you know to put a little extra into the emergency fund. How in the world one gets "individual responsibility" and "entitlement" rants out of this I do not know.

Baille 10 years, 5 months ago

"Westar, the largest electric utility in Kansas, used to pay for this kind of job in its northern region, which includes Lawrence, but the company shed that responsibility after changes approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission late last year, according to Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for Westar."

Westar disagrees with you, Pilgrim. Seems like an admission against interest to me.

concernedparent 10 years, 5 months ago

We just built a new house. Our powerlines had to be buried. No choice.

daddax98 10 years, 5 months ago

From my reading, Westar may have paid for it in the past but it has always really been the responsibility of the customer

DaveR 10 years, 5 months ago

Buried lines are more dependable than overhead lines, and safer, as well. To say nothing of the overheads' pervasive ugliness. Frankly, I can't recall an underground feeder line ever going out - there are, after all, millions & millions of miles of them.

And what about those manhole covers? Do you think there's a man down there? I'm fuzzy on this, but don't every one of them mark some sort of underground repair? Either of water or sewer or cable? Why, despite tree roots & water & such, do trunk lines endure, while the Dudleys' failed?

Lifelong_Lawrencian 10 years, 5 months ago

compmd (Anonymous) says:

"Why should Westar force a homeowner to use an underground line simply because that is what was present before? Why can't the homeowner have an above ground line if there is clearly no technical limitation? The electrical power transmission infrastructure is the property of Westar. When they install a line, it is THEIR line. It is extremely consumer unfriendly to let the infrastructure fail and instruct users of it to deal with it. Then again, the concept of "consumer protection" doesn't really exist in Kansas."

In order to install an overhead line in an area where the main lines are underground would require the installation of a pole next to the transformer. This would not only be stupid and against the neighborhood convenents, but would undoubtedly cost more than the underground conduit.

To be clear, the line is supplied by Westar at no charge. They homeowner must supply the PVC conduit that must be buried 3 feet underground from the electric meter to the transformer though which Westar pulls the wire to make the connection. The homes on Campfire Drive were built back in the 70's when the electric providers did not require conduit. Then the owner just supplied the ditch. Without a conduit, the line can be damaged by rocks when the ditch is back-filled and the line can stretch out of the meter as dirt settles around the foundation of the house. Today they install a telescoping section next to the house that allows for this.

Baille 10 years, 5 months ago

"And the KCC disagrees with Westar:"

And the sky is usually blue.

Dudley says that she thought Westar was responsible for paying for the repair and was surprised when they were not. Westar says they were responsible for the care, but aren't anymore. Dudley thinks they should be because we all share in the cost of overhead lines, and buried cable is better than overhead lines so let's not make buried cables less likely to be installed by not sharing the costs of maintenance. Westar says now that they aren't responsible any longer they would like to keep it that way. KCC says Westar was never responsible anyway.

OK. Point made, Pilgrim, KCC and Westar have a disagreement over a non-material fact. Again, no need for panty-bunching.

Why is KCCC jumping in at all? Afraid it might be accused of not looking out for the consumers? Afraid that it might be seen as contributing to the continued prevalence of overhead lines?

As a policy, I would advocate that we all bear the cost of maintaining the buried cables to residences and not pay for the overhead lines - even though this would cost me - apparently - $1500.00. I hate overhead power lines.

Ragingbear 10 years, 5 months ago

You know, there was a huge judgment against Weststar, yet we didn't get any of that money back. So who's pockets did it go into?

Weststar is one of the most corrupt and underhanded corporations I have encountered in quite some time.

Ragingbear 10 years, 5 months ago

Do they even make gas powered refrigerators anymore? Besides, in addition to being a fire hazard, there are also carbon monoxide concerns. Besides, natural gas used in household appliances is not very efficent.They also produce a large amount of Carbon Dioxide. The gas that idiotic politicians have been trying to convince you is the cause for global warming.

Linda Endicott 10 years, 5 months ago

Ah, remember the good old days when utilities like gas, electric, and even non-essential stuff like cable and phone lines were repaired and maintained by the companies that installed them in the first place?

Because the companies used to have the incentive to do this...especially in the case of cable and phone lines, because they knew people didn't HAVE to have these things, and if they wanted customers, they'd better take care of them.

Whether or not Westar is legally responsible for the repair or the maintenance or burying underground electric lines is beside the point.

If they wanted satisfied customers, they would offer to do it for free.

The reason they don't is because they know (just as KCP&L does in certain areas) that you have no other choice for electricity.

They've got you over a barrel, and they know it.

Crossfire 10 years, 5 months ago

I think the key to this is that the customer is responsible for the difference between an overhead and a buried line. If there are presently no overhead lines in the neghiborhood, would the cost of a buried line be less expensive or more expensive than the cost of erecting a pole and running an overhead line? Also the cost savings for Westar maintaining underground vs overhead lines has to be substatial. I think that replacing an underground line would be less expensive than erecting a pole in the right of way, placing a mast on the house and running an overhead line. The utility should replace the buried line at no charge. Even if this homeowner can pay the bill she should not, because this decision will not just effect her. It will effect all of us and not just concerning electricity but the cost of maintaining all utilities. If this one goes to court and it should the outcome will effect all of us. .............................If she wins I will help pay for the party.

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