Letters to the Editor

Letter: Attack on solar

July 6, 2015


To the editor:

As part of their latest rate case, Westar has proposed forcing those with solar onto a rate structure with an extra $23-per-month fixed charge while lowering the value for the energy they produce. The proposed solar rate structure is designed to make solar economically unattractive. National studies show that grid-tied solar provides a net financial benefit to the utility and general ratepayer, but without any independent Kansas study, Westar has decided that an arbitrary and punitive solar fee is in order.

Cromwell Solar and The Alliance for Solar Choice each petitioned for a seat at the table to ensure solar installers and customers have their voices heard by the Kansas Corporation Commission in this rate case, but when Westar opposed, the KCC denied our ability to make our case (no other petitioner was denied).

With electric rates climbing dramatically, Kansans’ ability to control their bills using their own roofs is being jeopardized by an energy monopoly. The growing Kansas solar industry welcomes an independent study of the benefits and costs of rooftop solar. The KCC should get all of the facts before acting in a way that will cost jobs and prevent Kansans from controlling energy costs.


Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

Please explain why residents with roof top solar helps Westar. I believe that a better understanding would benefit many.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 10 months ago

Well, for one thing, they're generating energy during peak usage times: when the sun is shining and everyone is cranking the AC.

Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

I understand that but how does that help Westar? Can Westar's costs be materially reduced because of added solar capacity? I can see how additional solar can reduce our need for more new generating plants but how does it affect the current ones cost-wise?

David Carson 1 year, 10 months ago

Certainly less stress on the grid and power generation, overall. The power plant doesn't have to produce as much ( therefore less maintenance, wear on equipment, etc) during times solar is providing power to the grid. Also can help lessen losses associated with transmission distance.

Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

Right, but how much does that exactly save a utility like Westar? If the savings are minimal then subsidizing solar may not be such a savings to all parties. Some one has to have the numbers if statements like these are made.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 10 months ago

This isn't about current expenses. They're attempting to raise costs to avoid a future when their legal monopoly may not be as profitable as it is right now. They're not subsidizing solar. They're buying excess energy back in the form of credits and selling the energy to other customers. Rather than requesting that this fee be triggered when it's no longer sustainable to offer the credits (so many people getting credits that they can't sell enough energy to pay for it), they're requesting fee hikes now in an attempt to disincentivize residential solar.

Darrell Lea 1 year, 10 months ago

Marc, here is an article that explores the topic in greater depth. Perhaps the question should not be "how does this help Westar," but "what policies help our community plot a sustainable future?"


Arnie Bunkers 1 year, 10 months ago

I think that more Solar in the mix is a good thing. Especially since the generation correlates to usage. But from Westar's point of view, they still need to have the same capacity ( although maybe not running, but in reserve) whether there is additional solar or not. Since we don't like brownouts, Westar needs to have capacity and generation sitting there to handle loads ( peak loads btw) during times of no sun. What if we have a string of X days without sun? What about the time during the winter when the sun goes down but the lights come on at 5 o'clock? Distributed gen is great, but unless the user ( who has the solar panel on her roof) is ready to pay a huge usage charge to be "helped" during peak times then I think some sort of fixed charge needs to be spread out among all users. There is also the issue of voltage support, which would make it increasingly difficult for dispatchers to handle with intermittent roof top generation. Again, Westar needs to be able to handle peak capacity and everyone needs to pay for that one way or another or we all lose in the long run.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 10 months ago

Actually, they need less capacity if more people use grid-tied solar. Peak demand nearly always occurs in the summer during daylight hours, not during winter when there's less sunlight, not during a string of generally cooler "days with no sun." But about that no sun thing... Germany manages to produce more solar power than the USA does, and they have fewer days of bright sunlight than Kansas does.

Arnie Bunkers 1 year, 10 months ago

They have to be able to cover peak demand with spinning and non spinning reserves and unfortunately cannot count on solar for that, even though you are right, solar generation is highly correlated with demand in the summer. Westar still needs to have a gas plant sitting there to meet demand and they still need the wires in place to get power to your and my computers, Prius chargers and Iphone chargers

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 10 months ago

Arnie, we pay for the electricity that we use when we can't produce enough for our own needs. When we are producing more than we need, Westar gets the electricity we produce. They pay us a minimal amount. Even in the summer when we have given them more energy than we have used, we still owe them money in fees. I personally can't wait until someone finally comes out with a storage unit, and I can disconnect from Westar all together, then they won't have to worry about us solar people at all, and neither will you. Of course, your rates will go up, since they still have to make their profit and pay their CEO big money.

Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

So, what would be an equitable process to charge customers that install solar? They still access the grid and Westar must cover its costs and earn a reasonable profit, all of which can be debated from both sides. Should those costs be transferred to existing non-solar customers?

Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

I would presume that everyone has some numbers if they state that there are studies that show how solar helps a utility? I would also presume that Westar would jump at something that would help them.

Why doesn't the solar community put forth the facts in a public forum not related to KCC? I would love to see the numbers.

Darrell Lea 1 year, 10 months ago

Marc, here's a resource that can help answer all of your questions.


Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

Just asked a simple question, Darrell. Anyone advocating a cause should be able to post the numbers or at least provide a link.

I am interested in the subject because I have a farm near Lawrence that needs electricity for a barn (there is no home on the property) and have had lengthy discussions with Westar. Because of the cost to install the electrical utility, we have decided for the time being to pursue other avenues, including solar. I don't have a dog in this fight because I do not currently use Westar.

Again, I don't see how existing customers putting up roof top solar helps Westar. On the surface, it would appear to promote cost shifting but I may be wrong.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 10 months ago

Every time someone has answered your question here, you've just demanded something more specific. The resource you should contact for that information is listed in the LTE. We're not your reference librarians.

Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

Really Barb? I asked a simple question regarding the validity of one assertion in the LTE.

How has anyone answered my question? The writer states that he affirmatively knows how installing roof top solar helps Westar. I just asked for the facts that supported the assertion. I am very interested in solar so I pay attention to what both sides say.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 10 months ago

You asked a simple question, and it was answered. So you made it a more complex question, and it was answered. You kept at it until you finally arrived at the sort of specific question (show me the specific numbers) that satisfied your real desire, which was to finally have a "simple question" left unanswered that everyone "should" in your mind have immediately on hand.

Aside from the fact that the LTE mentions the lack of an independent Kansas study (which would likely yield those numbers for Kansas), just asking for the question to be answered here shows real intellectual laziness. Go call Cromwell Solar. They're local. I'm sure they can point to national studies. Call your reference librarian. Go Google it. Quit demanding that everyone else do your research for you.

David Carson 1 year, 10 months ago

Hear hear, Barb, this is intellectual laziness at it's best, a.k.a. trolling.

Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

Wow. So someone can write an LTE without providing any real facts and when questioned, be attacked by the locals for being "lazy".

I guess David no one can have a conversation within the comments section of the LJW when an interesting topic is brought up. There are several commenters here that really add nothing to the conversation other than to make a Koch Bros comment or paste links.

I can understand why the writer brings the issue to the readers - his business is in jeopardy. Facing a monopoly within an industry in which you compete can be difficult, if not downright impossible. As he correctly states, the solar industry is expanding at an ever-increasing rate which can bring good jobs to an area which readily adopts the various applications for alternative energy.

I just don't understand how Westar benefits from a higher utilization of solar roof top users. And no, my simple question was never answered with any specifics, just lazy answers.

David Carson 1 year, 10 months ago

Marc, Barb pointed out very well what is wrong with your line of questioning. And last time I checked, no one here is under any obligation to educate you. You're merely trolling, and it's easy for everyone here to see. Want to know more about the subject, then do your own work.

Jim Schilling 1 year, 10 months ago

I still haven't figured out how Westar is hurt by solar. I have solar on my roof. I still pay the basic customer charge that everyone does and I pay for the overage I need that my system doesn't produce.

When I do produce more and send back to the grid Westar credits that to me at a wholesale rate, not retail. They then get to sell the electricity I produced at a higher retail rate.

I have had a couple of months where I net produced more than I used from Westar in a month and still owed them money. They are not hurt by solar except in the pocket.

Marc Wilborn 1 year, 10 months ago

David, I don't see where anyone answered my simple question with any real facts. As to being a troll, I guess no one can question an LTE when it goes against the collective.

Darrell Lea 1 year, 10 months ago

Marc, I typed the phrase "how does rooftop solar help a utility company" into Google, and got over 922,000 results in the search. Please find the link below. When you've read all the articles, please let us know.


Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 10 months ago

Also, Marc, the energy of my solar panels benefits you directly. The more energy I put back into the grid for your use, is less energy that is needed to be created by coal burning plants that pollute the air that you breathe. You're welcome. I realize you are concerned that Westar won't be able to pay their CEO a huge, obscene bonus, but I think maybe he should learn to live with it. http://www1.salary.com/WESTAR-ENERGY-INC-Executive-Salaries.html

David Carson 1 year, 10 months ago

Marc, once again, although I know you're still not going to get it. Barb described exactly your MO above.

"As to being a troll, I guess no one can question an LTE when it goes against the collective."

None of us wrote the letter, so why don't you look up the original LTE writer, Aron Cromwell, and ask him? Seriously, you're not here to get answers from LJW posters, you're here to troll. Period.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 10 months ago

He's shown in other threads that he's a climate denying concern troll. "I'm all for cleaning up the environment, but first you have to admit that there's no scientific consensus on climate change." That sort of thing.

Here it's conceding that solar creates jobs (more than coal) and decreases the total capacity necessary to meet our electrical needs (which implies decreased costs for the utility company), but he wants to see "numbers" before he thinks anyone has answered his question. He doesn't have any counter numbers himself, and he doesn't want to expend the effort to contact a subject matter expert, and gosh we're all picking on him because the opinion he hasn't outright stated in this thread goes "against the collective."

It's classic trolling. The sad part is that he may not even be aware he's doing it.

David Carson 1 year, 10 months ago

Unfortunately Barb, I think he is well aware of his trolling. It is a method to him, so he can eventually claim to win the debate, even though he has won nothing because of the constant changing of the playing filed. He's very aware of his tactic, too bad smart folks can see right through that idiotic ploy.

Annoying, yes! Effective, not so much.

Cille King 1 year, 10 months ago

If the utility companies are worried that roof-top solar users will stop using (and paying) for the grid, their proposal to raise base rates will only encourage people to go off the grid.

From one of the googled sources:

Solar proponents add that solar customers deserve payment and incentives for their efforts because making more power closer to where it is used (when resold to local utility companies) can alleviate stress on the grid -- making it reliable. It also helps utilities by relieving them from having to build infrastructure and sizable generators.

However, utility companies feel differently. Their argument is that solar customers, at some point, may stop paying for electricity, which means they also stop paying for the grid. This shifts the costs to other non-solar customers.

According to California's three major utility companies, they could lose as much as $1.4 billion in annual revenue to solar customers when the state's subsidy program fills up to full capacity. This means that about 7.6 million non-soalr customers would have to make up for that, paying as much as $185 per year each.

This leads to something utility companies call the "death spiral." This refers to the costs being shifted to non-solar customers, and because of this burden, they switch to solar-powered rooftops -- making utility companies' troubles even worse.

For that reason, utilities have requested that lawmakers limit those who can participate in such programs, including net metering.

Some utility companies are adding rooftop solar to their services, such as Dominion in Virginia. But not all are willing to adapt, and while solar still only amounts to a small percentage of power generation in the U.S., it seems utilities are looking to prevent the renewable energy emergence from spreading. - See more at: http://www.dailytech.com/Utility+Companies+See+Rooftop+Solar+Energy+as+Business+Grid+Threat/article33076.htm#sthash.5PLA840a.dpuf

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