Missouri consumers getting energy rebates, but Kansas law that would allow them here goes unused
photo by: Nick Krug
TOPEKA – Four years ago, Kansas lawmakers passed a law encouraging utility companies to launch programs that would help their customers be more energy efficient.
Today, none of Kansas’ utilities have implemented energy efficiency programs under the law. That has one advocacy group claiming Kansas consumers are missing out on savings, especially compared to residents in Missouri, where a similar law is being used to provide consumer rebates and other programs.
“If you live on the Kansas side of the state line, or if you’re a business on the Kansas side, you’re at a competitive disadvantage,” Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Hutchinson-based Climate and Energy Project, said in an interview. “On the Missouri side, you have access to rebates and programs that help you use less energy. Those are the same programs that were suggested on the Kansas side of the state line and were denied.”
The Kansas Energy Efficiency Investment Act came at the request of one of the largest electric utilities operating in the state, Kansas City Power & Light, which also initiated similar legislation in Missouri.
The 2014 legislation calls on utility companies to design programs that would help their customers use less energy, particularly during peak demand times like summer afternoons. Those programs, however, also had to be approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission, which was to review them to make sure they would be cost-effective, except for those programs that targeted low-income consumers.
The law also calls on companies to file annual reports with the KCC describing the results of their programs.
But when asked to provide copies of the most recent annual reports, a spokeswoman for the KCC said there haven’t been any because no energy efficiency programs have been implemented under the 2014 law.
KCP&L, in fact, is the only utility company that has ever submitted a proposal.
In 2016, it proposed what it called a demand-side management program, a package of 14 energy efficiency programs – seven for residential customers and seven for commercial customers.
Those included such things as rebates for people who installed more efficient lighting and for businesses that met certain energy efficiency standards, assistance for homeowners to weatherize their houses and install programmable thermostats and “strategic energy management” consulting for large commercial and industrial customers.
The package was similar to one that KCP&L had already implemented in Missouri, with approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Kansas regulators, though, rejected much of KCP&L’s plan, approving only seven of the 14 programs and rejecting the other seven, saying they did not meet the standards for cost effectiveness.
One week later, in June 2017, KCP&L withdrew its entire application, saying the programs were designed to work together, and it could not implement only the parts of the plan that the commission approved.
In an email statement Thursday, KCP&L spokeswoman Gina Penzig said the company plans to propose a new energy efficiency plan, although she that is not expected to happen in the immediate future.
“We continue conversations with the Kansas Corporation Commission … and hope to have programs available to our Kansas customers in the next few years,” Penzig said.
No other energy efficiency programs have been proposed to the KCC. And in the time since KCP&L withdrew its proposal, the company has merged with Topeka-based Westar Energy, but for regulatory purposes the KCC still treats them as separate companies because they have different service territories.
Westar has not submitted any energy efficiency proposals that are called for under the 2014 law, but it does have a rate case before the KCC in which it is proposing a new kind of rate design that is intended to encourage customers to use less energy during peak demand periods.
The KCC is expected to rule on that plan by the end of this month.
Barnett said the Kansas economy also is losing out on job opportunities by not implementing energy efficiency programs.
Barnett cited a recent report, Energy Efficiency Jobs in America 2018, that says there are more than 2.25 million people nationwide employed in “energy efficiency” jobs, meaning they now outnumber elementary and middle school teachers.
The report also noted that energy efficiency jobs – which include everything from residential insulation, window and air conditioning sales and insulation to commercial building engineering, design and lighting systems – are now the fastest-growing area of employment in the energy sector.
Barnett said she believes Kansas isn’t seeing as much growth in that job sector as it could otherwise.
Barnett also pointed to studies, including one by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, showing a strong correlation between energy efficiency and state policies that promote it, and she said that is where Kansas is lagging behind.
“While much of America moves forward with energy efficiency options to help residents reduce their energy consumption and lower their bills, Kansas remains stagnant,” Barnett said in a news release. “We need to implement KEEIA so our state can benefit from the job creation and ratepayers can see relief.”