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Westar/Great Plains Bosses Offer Bill Credits And Job Promises, But Balk At Rate Hike Moratorium

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Kansas News Service
Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy say they can agree to some, but not all, of Kansas Corporation Commission staff requests to change the terms of their proposed merger.

Executives pushing the merger of the two largest utility companies in Kansas have told regulators they’ll give in on some customer bill protection and job guarantees.

But the leaders at Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy say promising a 5-year moratorium on rate hikes could leave the new, larger company unable to keep step in a fast-changing industry.

Late last month staff at the Kansas Corporation Commission testified in favor of the proposed merger of Great Plains Energy and Westar energy, if it protected ratepayers and kept jobs at a Topeka headquarters for a full decade.

The staff worried that the two companies would be passing on too much of the savings from the proposed merger to shareholders, so they suggested increasing the applicants’ offer of $50 million in upfront bill credits to $125 million.

Great Plains Energy CEO Terry Bassham countered the offer by proposing to give customers $75 million in bill credits.

“Credits at the levels proposed do not fairly balance all interests.” he said.

Basham agreed to the staff’s recommendation to keep significant staff in Topeka for 10 years, rather than five.

But the executives from the two companies opposed a recommendation to put a five-year moratorium on rate increases.

Westar CFO Anthony Somma argued that a ban on rate hikes could sap the new company of money it will need to shift with changes in the industry.

“Nobody will benefit if the companies are pushed too far initially,” he said, “only to risk their financial strength with the first change in the law or next cycle in business conditions.”

Basham said he was encouraged by most of the suggestions, and feels the companies and regulators will be able to reach an agreement to OK the merger.

“The merger is the best path forward,” he said. “It protects Kansas, Kansas Jobs and our local economy.”

Brian Grimmett, based at KMUW in Wichita, is a reporter focusing on the environment and energy for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

I seek to find and tell interesting stories about how our environment shapes and impacts us. Climate change is a growing threat to all Kansans, both urban and rural, and I want to inform people about what they can expect, how it will change their daily lives and the ways in which people, corporations and governments are working to adapt. I also seek to hold utility companies accountable for their policy and ratemaking decisions. Email me at grimmett@kmuw.org.
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