A consumer advocacy agency wants to know if Gov. Kathleen Sebelius compromised the rights of ratepayers in Westar Energy Inc.'s request for an increase.
The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board has asked utility regulators to recuse themselves from considering Westar's proposed rate increase after seeing an internal Westar e-mail that says Sebelius said utilities would be "fully compensated" for trying to increase wind energy.
"We want to ensure that we have impartial judges," said David Springe, consumer counsel for CURB.
Sebelius' office Monday denied the governor sought to influence the rate decision on Westar.
"The implication by CURB is off base," said Sebelius' spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran.
Westar, the largest electric utility in Kansas, has requested a rate increase to produce approximately 300 megawatts of wind energy. Under the plan, Westar's residential customers would see a $2 to $2.50 per month increase in their electric bills.
The issue is on a fast-track timetable before the three-member Kansas Corporation Commission. All commissioners have been appointed by Sebelius.
One of them -- Joseph Harkins, a former energy advisor to Sebelius -- has already recused himself from the case, saying he wanted to avoid "even the slightest appearance of impropriety."
CURB has requested the other two commissioners -- Mike Moffet and Tom Wright -- also abstain from making decisions in the rate hike request.
In researching the case, CURB found an e-mail written Dec. 21, 2006 by then Westar chief executive officer James Haines.
In the e-mail from Haines to other Westar executives, Haines tells of a meeting several days earlier between utility chiefs and Sebelius and Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson.
Haines said that Sebelius told them about her policy initiative to increase renewable energy in Kansas, and she acknowledged that ratemaking before the KCC had emphasized lowest-cost ways to provide power.
"She indicated that the policy initiative will address this historical practice and will change it so that companies that commit to wind will be fully compensated," Haines wrote.
CURB says if Sebelius gave any instructions or commitments to any of the commissioners that could affect the case's outcome "the due process rights of our clients have been compromised."
CURB has testified that Westar should not get as much of an increase as it has asked for.
And it says if Moffet and Wright don't recuse themselves from the case, then they should affirm that they have not been influenced in the matter.
Neither Wright nor Moffet have filed their responses to CURB's request, but are expected to do so soon.
Sebelius spokeswoman Corcoran said the governor has never advised KCC members how they should set rates.
But she added that at that meeting with utility executives, Sebelius and Parkinson "also acknowledged that electric utilities need to be compensated for costs of energy they develop."