Regulators approve Westar Energy rate hike

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Westar Energy customers are facing higher electricity bills after state regulators granted the utility a $43.6 million rate hike to cover the cost of new transmission lines.

The Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board said homeowners who use 900 kilowatt hours will pay about $2.59 more per month for electricity. The state agency that represents residential and small-business customers on utility issues calculated that owners of larger homes using 1,500 kilowatt hours will see their monthly bills climb by about $4.32, The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/1iJ2eeP ) reported.

The higher rates are intended to help Westar cover the cost of new transmission lines to bring Kansas wind power onto the grid, improve reliability and handle transmission between states.

State law allows Westar and other utilities to request annual increases to compensate for a rise in in transmission, environmental, property tax and energy-efficiency costs, which are broken out as separate charges on customers’ bills.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, which sets utility rates for most of the state’s consumers, is required by law to approve the annual requests for transmission costs within 30 days of when they are filed, subject to a review for accuracy.

“I can’t even put this one on the commission,” said David Springe, chief consumer counsel for CURB. “This was a statute the Legislature set up.”

KCC staff recommended that the commission approve Westar’s Feb. 18 filing that is scheduled to go into effect April 2.

If an audit of the finding discovers errors, the rates could be changed again and refunds provided to customers, according to the KCC order.

CURB also will review the filing, Springe said, but he’s not optimistic the increase would drop by much, if at all.

“The calculations are usually pretty clean,” he said. “Even if we do find some errors, I don’t expect that to be substantial” in terms of lowering rates.

Counting Thursday’s hike, Westar’s annual rates have been increased $513.8 million since 2009, Springe said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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