Further comments accepted
The Kansas Corporation Commission will accept written comments from Westar customers through Sept. 15. Comments should reference Docket No. 08-WSEE-1041-RTS and be sent to Kansas Corporation Commission, Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, 1500 S.W. Arrowhead Road, Topeka, KS 66604-4027.
Comments also may be submitted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (800) 662-0027.
KCC will hold an evidentiary hearing on the request beginning Oct. 29. The commission must issue a decision by Jan. 23, 2009.
Topeka — More than 100 people on Wednesday packed a small hearing room to voice their disapproval of Westar Energy's proposed $178 million electric rate increase.
"They are bordering on greed with their request," Helen Simmons of Topeka told the Kansas Corporation Commission.
The three-member commission is expected to rule on Westar's rate request by Jan. 23.
Westar's proposal would increase the average residential customer's bill by 15 percent or $10 per month.
Social worker Kim Olson of Topeka said that was too much. She said she works with many cancer patients who are having trouble paying their utility bills because of their medical bills. "It's $10 that they don't have," she said.
Topeka-based Westar, the state's largest utility with more than 670,000 customers in Lawrence and much of eastern and south-central Kansas, says it needs the increase to cover the cost of investments in new natural gas plants and wind energy that were made to keep up with increasing demand. The company also said part of the increase was needed to cover the costs of restoring service after a devastating ice storm in December 2007.
"We need to find ways to meet our customers' needs," said Westar spokeswoman Karla Olsen.
Westar's Jim Ludwig said for people struggling to pay their utility bills, the proposed increase could almost be offset by lowering their thermostats 2 degrees in the winter and raising them 2 degrees in the summer.
But David Springe, counsel for the Consumer Utility Ratepayers Board, said Westar wanted too much profit for its shareholders while saddling ratepayers with all its business risks, such as pass-through charges for its increasing fuel costs and environmental upgrades.
"I want them to have what they need, but not any more than they need," Springe said.
During a question-and-answer period and then testimony to the KCC, no one from the audience spoke in favor of Westar's proposal.
"You guys have to step up and fight for the people of Kansas," said Bill King, a Goodyear Tire employee. He said Goodyear was faced with escalating fuel costs too but couldn't pass that on to consumers because the company faces competition from other tire makers. Westar is a monopoly in the area, he noted.
And some noted Westar's recent history of financial problems under former chief executive David Wittig, who was charged by prosecutors with looting the company.
"One of our concerns is that history could repeat itself," Simmons said.
KCC Chairman Thomas Wright apologized for the cramped hearing room where some of the standing-room-only crowd was forced to line up outside in the hallway. The one microphone used by those testifying didn't work well, and those in the hallway complained they couldn't hear what was going on in the hearing room. Wright said KCC's larger hearing room was under renovation.
KCC will conduct one more public hearing today in Wichita. A hearing Tuesday in Salina drew about 50 people.