In bad economy, Westar rates rise

Rate increases

Since 2009, Westar customers have seen a $265 million increase in rates. The company is now seeking another $91 million increase. Here is a breakdown of rate increases. Note: The 2008 rate increase took effect in 2009.

2008: general rate increase, $130 million or 11 percent.

2009: transmission delivery rate increase, $31.8 million or 2.4 percent.

2009: environmental cost recovery rate increase, $32.4 million or 2.5 percent.

2010: abbreviated rate increase, $17.1 million or 1.2 percent.

2010: transmission delivery rate increase, $6 million or .4 percent.

2010: environmental cost recovery rate increase, $13.5 million or .9 percent.

2010: energy efficiency rate increase, $5.8 million or .4 percent.

2011: transmission delivery rate increase, $17.4 million or 1.1 percent.

2011: environmental cost recovery rate increase, $11.2 million or .7 percent.

2012: rate increase request of $90.8 million or 5.85 percent.

— Source: Westar Energy

? Westar Energy ratepayers have been hit with $265 million in rate increases during the worst economy in decades. Westar now wants more.

The largest electric company in Kansas has filed a request with the Kansas Corporation Commission for a $91 million rate increase, which if approved would increase the average residential customer’s bill by approximately $6.50 per month, or 5.8 percent.

“It’s causing quite a hardship on consumers,” said David Springe, consumer counsel for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, which represents consumers in rate cases.

Springe said the three members of the KCC will have to determine “what are those things that are necessary to providing necessary and adequate services and where does the commission have discretion to trim Westar back because the consumers need a break.”

Westar officials have said the increase is needed to maintain a reliable system, comply with environmental regulations and keep its commitments to employees.

About $20 million of the proposed increase is to expand a tree-trimming program to reduce the number of power failures caused by tree limbs falling on power lines.

Another $37 million is needed to help Westar employees’ pension fund, which was hurt by stock market losses.

Gina Penzig, a Westar spokeswoman, said the company is concerned about the current economic climate, but added the utility has to balance its costs and charges to maintain a healthy company.

“The cost of doing business for us is increasing,” she said.

In 2008, Westar requested a $177 million rate increase and was granted a $130 million increase that took effect in 2009. Since then, the utility has also received several increases from the KCC through pass-throughs of costs related to transmission investments and environmental improvements at its plants.

Under state law, the rate increase request must be acted on by the KCC within 240 days. That means the case will be decided no later than April 2012.

The KCC is expected to schedule public hearings on the rate request either later this year or early next year.

Westar won’t be through when this request is settled. The KCC has approved a plan by Westar and Kansas City Power & Light to retrofit the La Cygne power plant at a cost of $1.2 billion, split between the two companies.

Once completed, the KCC will review how much of those costs are recoverable through rates.