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Government Spin Cycle

KSAL Staff - November 26, 2013 8:56 am


The Hutchinson News:

If one wants to see a political machine on full spin cycle setting, just read the statement issued this week from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback about Westar Energy’s latest $30 million rate increase.

“Today the Kansas Corporation Commission approved a $3 per customer rate increase for Westar Energy customers due to increased costs from EPA regulations,” Brownback said. “Kansans are now feeling increased energy costs due to expensive regulations handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency. Kansas homeowners, businesses and schools are hurting to pay for the decisions being made in Washington, D.C.”

Well sort of.

The $30 million rate increase is a victory for Kansas residents and small businesses, who showed up to informational meetings and complained to the KCC about Westar’s original $90 million rate increase, the company’s 19th such request since 2008.

Originally, Westar sought to increase residential bills by $62 million and raise small business bills by $21.5 million, while offering an $18.5 million reduction for medium commercial users and a $17.4 million reduction for large industrial users.

Only a portion of the rate increase was dedicated to financing pollution control improvements at the LaCgyne power plant, which is partly owned by Westar. The rest of the original rate adjustment was designed to create a more favorable business climate by forcing residents to absorb through their household utility bills the utility costs for large business.

Brownback, however, glosses over this fact in his release and fails to acknowledge that the KCC commissioners – two of three chosen by him – seem to view the Kansas utility customer as an endless source of cash for businesses and Westar investors. In recent years, Westar Energy – which posted a net income of $282 million in 2012 – has raised its rates a total of $539 million; this latest increase will raise that number to $570 million.

The only reason it isn’t higher is because Kansans finally tired of the endless string of rate increase requests and took action to temporarily curb Westar’s insatiable appetite for consumers’ money – and the KCC’s eagerness to feed it.

Brownback might hope to turn the state’s growing energy costs into an ever-popular anti-EPA election season talking point that resonates with many Kansans, but the facts just won’t allow it. In this case it’s not the EPA or Washington, D.C. that is costing Kansans money. The truth is that Kansas ratepayers have been asked over and over again to sacrifice their well-being for a company’s profitability. And thanks to the oversight failure of the KCC, that’s exactly what typically ends up happening.

Opinion by the Hutchinson News

City of Salina