Kansans blast Evergy’s ‘discriminatory’ fee proposals for solar panel use

Kate Gutschenritter voices her concerns over proposed Evergy rate changes for solar customers during a virtual public hearing by the Kansas Corporation Commission. (Screenshot/Kansas Reflector)

About 100 Kansans voiced concerns during a virtual public hearing Thursday night regarding proposals from Evergy to alter the rate structure for solar energy customers, and on the future of renewable energy in the state.

The Kansas Corporation Commission invited public feedback as part of its review to accept Evergy’s proposal for a $3 per kilowatt grid access fee for solar energy users, which climate and policy activists have derided as having the same elements of a now unconstitutional demand charge. The utility has proposed a minimum monthly bill for all residential customers if that grid access fee is not permitted.

“The grid access fee is just another discriminatory fee that impacts solar customers only, so it’s bound to be challenged in court, which invites litigation, which will just waste time and ratepayers’ money,” said Robert Rosenberg, co-director of the Flint Hills Renewable Energy and Efficiency Cooperative in Manhattan.

Rosenberg was the first person to speak at the hearing, and numerous people who spoke after him echoed the use of the word “discriminatory” to describe the suggested rate changes.

Mark Horst, owner of King Solar in Yoder, said he thought it was Evergy’s right to recover any lost cost of service they might otherwise see with individual renewable energy consumption, but would ask for a third party study to determine the actual cost of service relating to solar energy.

“If I have a customer that has an east-west facing roof, they need about 20% more solar panels than a customer with a south-facing roof,” said Horst. “Why should they pay 20% more of their cost of service to produce the same number of kilowatt hours as somebody that has an east-west roof?”

Horst said the proposed rate is based on direct current usage but the Evergy grid is based on alternating current, and he questioned why they should be allowed to charge a fee that is based on DC.

Scott White, of Lawrence-based Cromwell Solar, said the grid access charge would impact all customers detrimentally, and the minimum bill would cause problems for earlier solar customers, as well as low-income or fixed-income households.

Duane Herrmann, of Topeka, said he refrains from heating some rooms in his house in order to keep his electric bill low. He lives on a limited income of $24,000 per year and said the proposed $35 minimum utility charge would raise his Evergy bill by one-third.

“I think those who want a rate increase should have to live with $24,000 a year also,” said Herrmann.

Evergy spokeswoman Gina Penzig said in a statement the utility company continues to work toward establishing rates that are sustainable to allow the growth of solar in Kansas without burdening non-solar customers with extra costs.

“This proposal helps ensure that all customers are helping to cover the costs of the infrastructure that provides them reliable electricity when they need it,” Penzig said.

Evergy’s original proposal called for a minimum bill of $77 per month. Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, said a lot of the families she has heard from have faced barriers when they wish to exercise their right to install their own energy source.

“I think it’s important to stand with them, and also to bring up the fact that the utility provider just continues to remove choice from families,” Clayton said.

Kate Gutschenritter, of Eudora, said she installed solar panels on her home two years ago. She told KCC commissioners that characterizing solar generating residential customers as “economic free riders” is misleading and insulting.

“That term claims we imposed costs on the system without providing any benefits,” Gutschenritter said. “Replacing fossil fuels with clean energy is an indisputable public good with a clear benefit.”

Gutschenritter said the cost of adding solar energy equipment to one’s home falls on the homeowner and is at best a long-term, break-even investment under the current rate structure.

“Our motivation for this investment is conservation,” Gutschenritter said.

Newton resident Dan Wiebe said he has been looking at his carbon footprint and the potential issues stemming from climate change since 1980. He said he has been using wind power on his property for the past 15 years, and that the state and nation need to more rapidly shift to renewable energy sources.

Rural Goessel resident Gary Lyndaker said the overriding issue surrounding this rate structure discussion is climate change. He suggested the commission send Evergy “back to the drawing board.”

“This isn’t a hoax, or a short-term problem,” Lyndaker said. “In effect, this proposal would be rewarding the fossil fuel shareholders and investors.”

Anthony Schmidt, state coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby, cited temperature data from a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that said Kansas could see extended periods of time with daily high temperatures at or above 100 degrees within the next 30 years, and that solar customers are trying to do their part to minimize the impact of a shifting climate.

“Here we have people trying to take action against an imminent problem, and they’re being discouraged from it,” Schmidt said. “I just can’t see anything right about that.”