Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Westar Energy's residential customers will see their bills jump by $3 a month as part of a settlement reached in the utility's request for a rate hike.
The electric company said it needs the extra money to comply with federal environmental requirements.
Right now, every Westar residential customer pays a $9-per-month customer charge. By the beginning of 2014, that will increase to $12 per month.
Residents and small businesses will shoulder most of the cost. The residential increase will generate an additional $18 million for Westar. A rate increase for small businesses will bring in an additional $12.7 million.
Rate increases for medium businesses will generate $3.9 million in new revenue and large industrial customers will be paying a combined $3.2 million. Municipalities will see an overall increase of $2.1 million and a rate increase for school districts will bring in $500,000 in additional revenue.
"It's only three bucks," Wichita resident Casey Wulf said. "I could probably be all right with it, but I know there are a lot of families that are going to have a problem and struggle with that."
Wulf works in the aviation industry and she said any increase in monthly expenses is cause for concern when employed in such an uncertain business.
"It's kind of difficult to think that you're going to be paying more monthly when you're already struggling trying to keep a job; especially for those that have all been laid off," she said. "I mean, every penny counts right now."
Westar Energy said it had to increase the monthly customer charge in order to pay for environmental upgrades at the LaCygne coal-fired power plant in eastern Kansas.
"While I understand the criticism, we are under federal mandate to work on that plant and get better environmental controls placed on it to meet requirements put upon us by EPA and others," Westar's Vice President of Regulatory Affairs.
The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board, which lobbies the Kansas Corporation Commission on behalf of electric customers, said rate increase were unavoidable.
"Even our models indicated that rates had to go up some, so there was no question that rates were going to go up some," David Springe, Consumer Counsel for CURB, said.
The question, Springe said, was how much rates would increase.
Westar had asked to shift nearly $50 million in costs from industrial and large business customers to residential and small business customers. The company said the larger customers were subsidizing the smaller customers.
The shift, however, was dropped as part of the settlement reached between CURB, Westar and several other negotiators.
Springe said customers voicing their concerns during hearings about the proposed rate increase helped steer the case toward settlement.
"I don't want to underestimate and I want to say thank you to the public that did participate because it certainly makes a difference when the public shows up," he said.