Westar plans $500M wind program

Rate increase sought to launch energy proposal

? Westar Energy on Monday asked for a rate increase to launch the largest wind-generated electricity program in the state.

If enacted, the deal would produce three wind farms at a cost of more than $500 million that would produce 300 megawatts of energy by late 2008, according to Westar.

That would nearly double present wind generation in Kansas and provide enough electricity to power a city the size of Lawrence.

And the Topeka-based company indicated it will seek an additional 200 megawatts of wind energy by the end of 2010.

Westar’s plan was endorsed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and other key officials.

“This commitment from Westar will help us secure a clean energy future in Kansas,” Sebelius said.

But Westar said the proposal is dependent on approval of its rate increase request filed with the Kansas Corporation Commission.

Under the plan, Westar’s residential customers would see a $2 to $2.50 per month increase in their electric bills. That would be a base rate increase ranging from $27 million to $32 million, officials said.

And Westar, the state’s largest electric utility with about 673,000 customers including Lawrence, is seeking quick approval – by the end of this year, which in rate-increase cases is lightning quick.

David Springe, consumer counsel for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, which advocates for consumers, said Westar’s proposed time frame for getting approval was “aggressive.”

He said CURB would take a careful look at Westar’s plan.

“Our board does believe that having some wind as part of our portfolio is a good thing to do,” Springe said. “But we want to make sure we have it in the least expensive manner possible.”

Westar said wind resources may lower long-term energy costs, but in the short term an increase was needed to retain reasonable rates while protecting against future fossil fuel costs.

The company also said the development of wind energy will help it delay the need to build another coal plant.

” … If we can defer that as long as possible, we believe that will benefit our customers and our state,” said Bill Moore, Westar’s president and chief executive officer.

Under the plan, Westar would own about half of the wind generation at a cost of $282 million, and purchase energy under supply contracts.

The proposed wind projects are:

¢ Construction of a 99 megawatt farm in Wichita County between Leoti and Scott City.

¢ Purchase of 96 megawatts from the Meridian Way Wind Farm near Concordia in Cloud County.

¢ A proposed 100 megawatt wind farm near Medicine Lodge in Barber County.

Kansas has been cited in national studies as being in the top three states when it comes to the potential for wind energy, but it has lagged in developing wind generation behind states such as Iowa, Minnesota, Texas and California.

Kansas currently produces about 364 megawatts of electricity from wind power, according to state officials.

State Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, who chairs the House Energy and Utilities Committee, said, “Westar’s addition of three large wind farms and their intent to seek an additional 200 megawatts will make Kansas a leader as the largest per capita producer of wind energy in the United States.”