The three-member Kansas Corporation Commission conducted a public hearing Monday to allow Evergy customers and others to comment on the company’s recommendations for a four-year, energy-efficiency program. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from KCC’s YouTube channel)
TOPEKA — Evergy customers and environmental activists urged the Kansas Corporation Commission to endorse the utility company’s new energy efficiency programs, but also look beyond that plan to help low-income residential customers save money by slashing their electricity demand.
Evergy, the investor-owned utility formed by merger of Westar Energy of Topeka and Great Plains Energy of Kansas City, Missouri, applied to the KCC for authority to offer a portfolio of efficiency initiatives from January 2023 to December 2026. Evergy would be compensated by residential and business customers for investments in efficiency, which company executives said would create savings for customers in excess of rate hikes tied to the programs.
On a Zoom call Monday, Evergy outlined details of its recommendations to the KCC. Consumers were given an opportunity to address the commission’s three members and to ask questions of Evergy staff. The KCC is accepting written remarks about Evergy’s plan until July 8.
“This is a transitional moment in the electrical power industry,” said Uma Outka, a University of Kansas law professor working at the intersection of energy and environmental law. “There’s a lot to be proud of in Kansas when it comes to energy, but our progress in energy efficiency, so far, is not one of them.”
Several people recommended KCC commissioners Dwight Keen, Susan Duffy and Andrew French work to broaden Evergy’s efficiency strategy. Their common plea was for Evergy to offer Kansas customers the Pay As You Save program available to Missouri customers of Evergy.
Under the PAYS program, Evergy covers all or most upfront costs to install energy efficient equipment in homes. The company recovers those initial costs over time through fixed monthly charges on utility bills. The assessment stays with the upgraded residence and doesn’t follow the person if he or she moves away.
Mothers Out Front member Mary O’Leary, a retired educator living in Prairie Village, said Evergy’s energy efficiency agenda ought to include a fully funded PAYS program. The goal of KCC and Evergy should aggressively respond to climate change by reducing energy demand and cutting pollution, she said.
“Kansas has more Evergy customers than Missouri. So, why can’t we benefit from energy efficient programs like Pay As You Save?” O’Leary said. “Energy efficiency is literally the most affordable, safest and cleanest way to meet energy demand. Evergy needs to increase its energy efficiency goals.”
Douglas County resident Scott Allegrucci said Evergy had to balance interests of a diverse customer base and of profit-seeking company shareholders. But, he said, Kansas regulators and utility companies needed to engage in reforms such as PAYS to curtail demand for electricity.
“The least expensive and the least polluting kilowatt hours are the ones Evergy does not need to generate,” he said.
Brian File, who works on sustainable energy programs at Evergy, said the company would invest $13 million in proposed efficiency programs for low-income customers under the present blueprint with an expected payback of $40 million. Recommended rate adjustments call for an increase of $1 to $4 per month for residential customers and an increase of $1 to $3 for each 1,000 kilowatts consumed by business customers, he said.
The rate hike would start on the low end of those ranges and gradually move to the high end, File said.
Consumer Mary English, of Prairie Village, said Evergy’s programs of energy efficiency should include rebates for the cost of sophisticated professional in-person energy assessment of homes.
Instead, she said, Evergy’s plan contemplated a cheaper approach in which an individual would walk through a residence and make suggestions about saving electricity.
“There is no substitute for a professional energy audit done by trained contractors. This is because home energy audits include the use of expensive equipment to test not just energy efficiency, but also health and safety issues. There is no DIY audit that can match the tools and expertise of a professional,” English said.
English also suggested Evergy provide financial support for revision of local building codes so new structures were assembled in accordance with higher energy efficiency standards.
Mohsen Fatemi, an urban planner in a KU doctoral program on energy justice, said Evergy had to recognize modest-income families in the company’s service area that would benefit financially by owning more efficient appliances couldn’t afford to buy new washers, refrigerators or air conditioners.
“I’m concerned that most of the energy efficiency solutions require upfront cost and investment. People that struggle with their current rates, it would not be affordable to follow educational tips,” Fatemi said.
Kim Winslow, an Evergy senior director with Energy Solutions, said the company proposed an appliance recycling program that included information about the cost of running a second refrigerator in the garage or turning up the thermostat one or two degrees.
“We will have programs that will not require that upfront investment, but we also also try and really stress that behavioral change, too,” Winslow said. “It’s very important that customers understand what is driving their energy usage.”
The KCC’s website, under Docket No. 22-EKME-254-TAR, contains written testimony from Evergy, the KCC staff and others about the proposed energy efficiency initiatives.
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