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Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

MKGA

On the eve of the Kansas Republican primary for governor, President Donald Trump tweeted his endorsement of Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Little more than a week later, when Kobach could finally claim victory, he stood at the foot of the state Capitol and promised to do for Topeka what Trump’s done for Washington. Trump, he promised, was coming to campaign for him.

This week, that campaign promise looks pretty strong.

Westar has reached an agreement with staff of the Kansas Corporation Commission and several other interested parties that would reduce Westar’s annual revenue by $66 million.

For the average residential customer, that will mean a decrease of about $3.50 a month.

Westar's original request was for a $52 million increase.

Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light Co., won approval from state regulators Thursday to merge as equals.

That clears the way for a combined company worth $14 billion serving more than 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.

A couple dozen people showed up Tuesday night in Topeka to voice their concerns about Westar Energy’s proposed rate increase.

Westar is asking the Kansas Corporation Commission to increase prices by about $52 million. That's after taking into account savings from changes to the federal corporate income tax.

The increase would cost the average Westar customer about $5.90 a month.

Perhaps conserving energy is important to you. You’ve switched out all of your incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. You keep your thermostat set at 78 in the summer. You might even get mad at your kids when they leave a light on.

Your neighbor, on the other hand, isn’t quite as concerned. He keeps the thermostat set consistently at 68 and he hasn’t replaced any of his light bulbs because, in his words, who wants to pay $10 for a new one?

Claire Verbeck / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: Why a consent decree between Kansas City and the EPA is impacting how much you pay for sewer services.

The public submitted more than 100 comments to Kansas regulators about the proposed merger of Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy. Almost all of them were negative.

Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

A resolution pending in the Kansas Legislature would urge, but not require, state regulators to make electric rates more competitive.

In 2017, Kansas electric utility rates averaged 10.58 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s higher than any other state in the region. It’s also slightly higher than the national average of 10.54 cents per kilowatt hour.

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The Trump administration remains unlikely to back off its plans to ease Obama era restrictions that make it harder for utility companies to burn coal.

Likewise, the federal courts may eventually decide what pollution rules the Environmental Protection Agency can enforce on energy production.

Photo courtesy Cromwell Solar

If you’ve got solar panels on your roof, Westar Energy wants to create a surcharge on your power bill.

The utility insists that if it doesn’t charge you extra, all of its other customers will get stuck with the tab of being ready with electricity when the sun lets you down.

Solar power enthusiasts want the Kansas Legislature to outlaw such charges, fees they say could stymie their industry’s growth.

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A merger of Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy deserves approval, regulatory staff say in a new report, if the two utilities sweeten the deal with more money for ratepayers and less for shareholders.

The staff report issued this week is only advisory. Combining the two companies still needs a go-ahead from the Kansas Corporation Commission. But it signals that the companies may be close to a merger that wins regulatory approval.

Grian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

A proposed merger between two of Kansas’ biggest electric utilities drew little criticism, or praise, during a public hearing Monday night in Topeka.

Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light, want to  create a new company worth about $15 billion. It would serve more than 1.5 million customers in Kansas and Missouri. The combined company would also have one of the largest portfolios of renewable energy in the country.

Palmer and Silvey
Brian Ellison / KCUR 89.3

Just days into the 2018 legislative session, after 13 years of service in the General Assembly, Kansas City Republican Senator Ryan Silvey was out of the statehouse and beginning a six-year term on the Missouri Public Service Commission. Silvey had frequently clashed with Governor Eric Greitens, and in this Statehouse Blend Missouri "exit interview," Silvey acknowledges that the governor may have nominated him partly to eliminate a "thorn in the side." 

file photo / Kansas News Service

Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light say all the money coming from recently passed federal corporate tax cuts will land in their customers’ pockets. On Thursday, the agency that sets utility rates in Kansas insisted on it.

Westar Energy expects its tax bill to shrink by about $65 million a year under the new federal tax plan. Spokesperson Gina Penzig says several politicians asked if the utility would pass those savings along.

“We were glad to offer that confirmation,” she said.

Tim Samoff / Flickr - CC

Water rates in Kansas City, Missouri, have soared over the last several years. The average water bill has gone from $48 in 2009 to more than $100 today. 

That's due, in part, to infrastructure upgrades mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those mandatory upgrades were not accompanied by federal dollars, which means the cost fell to rate payers. 

Doing online research is almost required in school these days, but how can you do that without a reliable way to connect to the internet? Michael Liimatta, who manages the ConnectHome initiative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says that with more than half of public school kids living in poverty, plenty of people who should have web access still just can't afford it.

Internet-connected water and electrical meters as well as new technology like leak detection in underground pipes means public utility providers now have huge opportunities to increase efficiency. Rolling out that new tech can not only help cut costs and head off expensive failures, but can also create new revenue streams for cities.

Guests:

Once every water and gas meter, light pole, park bench, and parking spot is collecting statistics, just how do you turn all that data into useful information? Allowing access to everyone who wants to see and analyze that data can lead to amazing things, and can change people's relationships with their city.

Guests:

Courtesy/Christopher Jones

Trees have lives, but even as long as those lives can be, trees do die. When a tree's condition threatens structures and utility lines, property owners come face to face with the inevitable. On this edition of Up to Date, one such owner tells the tale of a tremendous silver maple that once shaded his backyard. Joining the conversation is a spokesperson for KCP&L with steps utilities take to keep power lines clear and safe.

Guests:

zkoenig / Panoramio

Compared to other areas of the country, Missouri and Kansas have it pretty good when it comes to energy pricing.

Courtesy of Landes family

The living room of Cheryl Landes' small apartment has the cozy feel of your grandmother’s living room.

No surprise.  She’s often watching four grandkids, as well as her own 13-year-old son.

This afternoon, two of them are playing with their hand-held electronic games. They can play alone, or together. They laugh as their small computers make music.

Cheryl’s 90-year-old mother, Billie,  lives here too. She quietly sinks into a club chair. She has chronic lung disease, and dementia.

Both Cheryl and her grandson have asthma.