- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The only planned public hearing on the biggest utility merger in Kansas history is scheduled for Monday in suburban Topeka.

The Kansas Corporation Commission has scheduled Monday evening at a Topeka-area high school as the single public hearing on the proposed $12.2 billion acquisition of Westar by Great Plains Energy, the parent company of KCP&L;, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://j.mp/2fUGSPV).

Customers in other parts of the state will be able to watch the hearing live or view a replay at the KCC website. They can also submit comments in writing or online at the site.

If the merger’s approved, Westar and KCP&L; will become a single electric company straddling the Kansas/Missouri border, with 1.5 million customers.

The last comparable commission decision was about 25 years ago, when Wichita-based Kansas Gas & Electric Co. fought off a KCP&L; acquisition attempt and instead merged with Topeka-based Kansas Power & Light to become Western Resources. Western Resources was later renamed Westar Energy.

David Nickel, consumer counsel for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, is urging Westar and KCP&L; customers who don’t live close to Topeka to weigh in on the merger via the written comment route. Nickel said CURB, the state agency that represents home and small-business customers, will read all the comments, as should the commissioners themselves. CURB can and probably will use some of the comments in its own testimony, he said.

“The big question in our mind is whether or not this acquisition is in the public interest,” Nickel said. “Is there a net benefit that inures to the ratepayers?”

The commission isn’t required to hold public hearings, but it’s customary to do so in important cases. The commission has also previously held more than one hearing at different locations or provided teleconference links so residents far from the hearing site could speak directly to the commission.

Kansas law requires that merging utilities prove the deal will actually benefit the rate-paying public, not just the company’s shareholders. Simply not harming customers isn’t enough, he said.

“The questions I would have, were I a member of the audience, would be: Is this going to be a reliable system afterwards? Are there savings that we’re going to enjoy by virtue of this? . How is this going to affect the local economy? Are we going to lose jobs in various locations such as Wichita and south-central Kansas?” Nickel said.

Westar is one of Topeka’s biggest private employers, and thousands of Kansans, including retired company workers, own stock in Westar. Under the acquisition terms, Westar stockholders are proposed to receive $51 in cash, plus $9 worth of stock in Great Plains, for each share of Westar.


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

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