Topeka Westar Energy on Tuesday said it needed a $91 million rate increase to provide reliable service, but several customers said the state's largest electric utility needed to economize.
James Peek of Topeka complained of executive salaries at Westar, saying, "I see only loosening of the belt."
He noted that former Westar president and chief executive officer William Moore's compensation package was approximately $1 million in 2008 and increased to nearly $6 million in 2010. Later, Westar officials said much of that was due to Moore receiving a stock award over a three-year period that was reported in 2010.
Even so, David Springe, consumer counsel for the Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board, said, "It's good to be a Westar executive."
Their comments came during a public hearing before the Kansas Corporation Commission, which will decide how much Westar should get. The three-member commission is holding a second hearing Wednesday in Wichita.
An evidentiary hearing will be held in February. The commission must rule in the case by late April.
If approved by the KCC, the proposal would increase residential customers’ bills by approximately $6.50, or 5.85 percent, per month and give Westar shareholders a 10.6 percent return on equity.
Freda Dobbins of the small town of Goff in Nemaha County said her church struggled last summer to pay its utility bill.
She opposed the part of Westar's proposal that would provide a 10.6 percent return on equity.
Dobbins said people who are able to save money are lucky to get a one percent or two percent return. "Why are people being asked to use that little bit of income to help pay 10.6 percent?" she asked.
Greg Greenwood, a senior vice president at Westar, said, "This case is really about providing reliable service to our customers."
Greenwood argued that some of the increase was needed to provide fair wages to Westar employees.
But Peek said in the current economy, there were many people who were not getting pay raises.
Springe noted that even though Westar had not received a general rate increase since 2008, it had received several pass-through increases totaling approximately $120 million.
He urged ratepayers in the audience to contact their friends to try to get more people to comment on the proposed rate increase to the KCC. Only about a dozen members of the general public were at the Topeka meeting, and a handful could be seen at remote sites in Salina and Pittsburg that were connected by video-conference.
Public comments on the proposed rate increase can be made through Feb. 8. Comments should reference Docket 12-WSEE-112-RTS and sent to the Kansas Corporation Commission, Office of Public Affairs, and Consumer Protection, 1500 SW Arrowhead Road, Topeka, KS 66604-4027. Comments may also be submitted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org through the KCC website, kcc.ks.gov, or by calling 1-800-662-0027 or 785-271-3140.