State regulators will allow solar energy group to make arguments against proposed Westar rate increase

photo by: Westar Energy

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Kansas utility regulators have given two environmental groups that promote the use of solar energy permission to intervene in a case in which Topeka-based Westar Energy is seeking to impose higher fees on customers who install solar panels on their homes.

In its order Thursday, however, the Kansas Corporation Commission said the Sierra Club and a group called Vote Solar must consolidate their testimony, evidence and requests for documents, and they cannot submit repetitive testimony or briefs.

Vote Solar describes itself as a nonprofit grassroots organization that works to bring solar energy into the mainstream. In its motion to intervene, the organization said it has 82,000 members nationwide, including at least 80 in Westar’s service area.

Westar, which will soon merge with the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light, is asking for a $17.6 million rate hike that would take effect next spring.

Part of that increase would come from an additional charge on customers with solar panels and other kinds of self-generation devices for the electricity they pull off Westar’s grid during peak demand periods, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays.

Both the Sierra Club and Vote Smart have argued that such a rate structure would penalize people for using self-generated clean, renewable energy that reduces the need for electricity from coal-fired power plants.

But the KCC ruled in another case in September 2017 that electric utilities may charge more to those customers because they use less electricity from the power grid, and thus they do not contribute as much as other customers toward the cost of building and maintaining that grid.

In its ruling Thursday, the commission noted that neither the Sierra Club nor Vote Solar had legal standing to intervene because neither is a customer of Westar. But the commission earlier had used its discretionary power to give the Sierra Club permission to intervene, and on Thursday it said the two groups could intervene on a consolidated basis.

The KCC is expected to rule on the rate request by Sept. 27.


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