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Westar

The way Westar Energy runs its coal plants in Kansas unnecessarily costs consumers millions of dollars a year through an obscure, if common, practice known as self-committing generation.

Solar panel users in Kansas continue to pay higher electricity bills as they wait for utility company Evergy to keep a promise made during this year’s legislative session to remove a recently added fee.

Evergy says it will follow through on the promise by the end of May. But state regulators ultimately hold the power to decide whether or not to approve the request to change some solar customers’ rates.

It’s not exactly unusual for customers to complain about their electricity bills. But repeated rate hikes over the past decade have made Westar Energy’s customers particularly mad. And last year’s merger with Kansas City Power and Light only served to keep the company’s finances — and its profit margin — in public view.

Companies have complained for years that electricity rates run higher in Kansas than in surrounding states.

That gives manufacturers and retailers in other states an edge, they say, and discourages businesses from moving to Kansas.

Now the Legislature wants to know what’s causing such a disparity.

Wind is beginning to challenge coal’s status as the primary energy source for electricity produced in Kansas.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

When a ban might not be a ban

Legislators set out this year to make telemedicine more practical in Kansas. They drafted a law that would force insurance companies to pay for some services offered over video hook-ups the same way as in-person visits.

But that bill became controversial when anti-abortion forces added language that seemed to stop a physician from administering drugs, over telemedicince links, intended to trigger a medical abortion.

One morning after the next, semi-trailer trucks get off Interstate 70 near Colby in west-central Kansas.

They haul parts of giant wind turbines in 150-foot-long sections, the pieces to the Solomon Forks wind farm and the next monumental phase of the Kansas bet on wind energy. The farm will plant 105 turbines in the prairie, each towering 250 feet high.

The project is one of a wave of wind farms under construction in Kansas that will add 20 percent more electrical generation to the state’s output.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Aging out into problems

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation looking at what happens to older children in foster care shows Kansas roughly follows national trends — and paints a bleak picture for their entry into adulthood.

Some things stand out in Kansas:

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.

New Trump administration rules aimed at protecting the coal industry reverse Obama-era regulations on greenhouse gases by letting states set their own rules.

That means Kansas regulators could clear the way for more coal, but economic trends have already driven a shift to natural gas and wind power.

Evergy, the company formed in the merger between Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, has announced the official retirement dates of several older power plants.

Tecumseh Energy Center, near Topeka, and two units at Gordon Evans Energy Center in Colwich will shut down on Oct. 1. Those will be followed by the last two units at Murray Gill Energy Center outside of Wichita on Nov. 1.

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.

Two Westar Energy employees have died from injuries received while working at the company’s largest power plant, which remained closed Monday.

Operations supervisors Craig Burchett and Jesse Henson were burned when a piece of equipment with high-pressure steam broke about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Westar officials said. The two were airlifted from Jeffrey Energy Center to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, where they died Sunday evening.

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?

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.

file photo / Kansas News Service

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.

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.

Texas Military Department

Dozens of people from Kansas and Missouri are on their way to the Gulf Coast of Texas as Tropical Storm Harvey continues to batter Houston and other parts of southeastern Texas.

Submitted Photo

Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. July 10.  

Two of the region’s largest utilities are taking another run at a merger.

Great Plains Energy, based in Kansas City, Mo., and Topeka-based Westar Energy announced Monday that they would seek regulatory approval for a proposed merger, which if approved would create a Fortune 500 company with $14 billion in assets and approximately 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.

Stephen Koranda / KPR

Kansas regulators Wednesday blocked the $12 billion purchase of Topeka-based Westar Energy by Great Plains Energy.

Members of the Kansas Corporation Commission had concerns that the purchase price was too high and that the merger wouldn’t create enough efficiencies to guarantee lower costs to customers.

The order from the three-member commission called the proposal “too risky.”

Kansas regulators will consider a compromise that would allow Westar Energy to increase rates for electricity customers by $78 million. That would mean $5 to $7 more a month for most customers. The Kansas Corporation Commission will consider the compromise during hearings starting Monday. Commissioners will decide whether to adopt it or craft their own plan.

zkoenig / Panoramio

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