Editorial: Positive reversal

It’s important for the state’s key consumer representative to have a seat at the table when utility rates and regulations are being discussed.

It took a little prodding, but the Kansas Corporation Commission has done the right thing by reversing a decision to exclude the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board from a Westar case that will have a slight impact on electrical rates paid by residential customers.

The Energy Efficiency Rider is sought by Westar every year to obtain reimbursement for money the company spends to encourage its customers to conserve electricity. The $10.5 million Westar is seeking for that purpose this year would add about 48 cents to the monthly bill for an average residential customer.

The amount is small, but the precedent the KCC set last month by refusing to let CURB intervene in the case was huge. CURB is a state agency, created by statute and charged with representing the interests of residential and small-business customers in any and all utility matters. David Springe, chief consumer counsel for CURB, conceded that his agency was unlikely to have any objections to the energy efficiency reimbursement, but it’s still important for CURB to keep an eye on KCC proceedings.

KCC staff members initially ruled that CURB had failed to show that its participation in the case was necessary to protect the interests of Kansas consumers. CURB countered that its right to participate in any case involving Westar rates is guaranteed by the law that created the agency.

It appeared the argument might be headed to court until Tuesday, when KCC commissioners reversed the initial decision and allowed CURB to intervene in the case. According to news reports, they also discussed establishing a new policy to determine who can intervene in various cases before the commission. In some cases, they said, CURB or another utility or interested party might not even know whether they had a problem with a rate case, but nonetheless want to monitor the proceedings.

There may be a line to be drawn here, but it seems that a public agency like the KCC should strive to make its proceedings as transparent and open as possible. The commissioners shouldn’t be doing anything that they don’t want any interested party or member of the public to see.

That’s why whatever policy is considered shouldn’t exclude CURB, the primary voice for average Kansas consumers in any KCC proceeding. Without CURB’s presence, utility decisions all too often would be made between the KCC and utility representatives without consumers having a voice.

The KCC decision to exclude CURB in even a relatively minor case was simply wrong. We congratulate the commissioners on revisiting the issue and changing their minds.