News Briefs

Public can comment on Evergy sustainability plan after critiques over transparency

By: - May 6, 2021 12:40 pm
Gov. Laura Kelly said construction of Inevergy’s new Grain Belt Express transmission line to carry wind-driven electricity to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana can create about 1,000 permanent jobs in Kansas. This image is of Evergy's Flat Ridge Wind Farm near Medicine Lodge. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)

Evergy’s Flat Ridge Wind Farm, near Medicine Lodge, is one of the utility’s sources of renewable energy. Bills before the Kansas Senate would make developing wind energy impossible, the industry says. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

Members of the public will be allowed to comment on Evergy’s five-year sustainability plan after environmental and consumer advocates criticized regulators’ process as not transparent.

The three-member Kansas Corporation Commission voted unanimously Thursday morning to allow public comments on the utility’s “sustainability transformation plan” starting immediately. The public comment period will close July 7.

The KCC is reviewing the plan, though it does not require the commission’s approval. The process is meant to allow KCC staff, environmental groups, consumer advocates and Evergy to discuss the proposals that the company says will help decarbonize and modernize the electrical grid.

But environmental and consumer groups have criticized both Evergy’s plan and the KCC’s process as lacking.

Evergy, which serves 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri, announced the plan last year after activist investor group Elliott Management Corporation, a major shareholder, told the utility company it should either develop a plan to invest in its infrastructure or sell. From that emerged the sustainability transformation plan, which environmental and consumer groups have said appears more targeted at increasing shareholder profits than investing in sustainable energy. 

In its release Thursday announcing the vote, the KCC said the plan is meant to “cut operating and maintenance expenses while increasing capital expenditures.”

KCC opened its investigation last summer, and “intervenors” — what the commission calls interested third parties in its cases — began reviewing the information, including some that has been kept confidential. In November, the KCC approved an order setting deadlines for intervenor comments and dates for workshops. It did not include any opportunities for the general public to comment on the STP.

Both the confidential designations and the previous lack of public comment period have caught the attention of environmental and consumer groups.

The Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, a national environmental group, said in its comments on the plan, filed with the KCC last month, that the KCC should have allowed for comments from the public, not just intervenors. The group attached exhibits with pages of comments from non-intervenor stakeholders, including Build Power Mo-Kan, which submitted a petition urging the utility center its plans “on principles of energy justice and energy freedom” by prioritizing clean, renewable energy.

“Evergy is at a critical juncture in its history,” the petition says. “I urge Evergy to make the right choice for Missourians and Kansans and commit to phasing out coal by 2030, with no new gas generation and phasing in clean energy to benefit the communities that Evergy serves.”

Sierra Club, along with several other stakeholder groups filed two motions to try to lift the confidential designations, but the KCC has not ruled on those yet.

“Retail electric ratepayers in Kansas are the ones who will pay all of the bills associated with the STP, and so they should have a full and complete say on the issue,” said Jim Zakoura, an attorney representing the Kansas Industrial Consumers Group in the proceedings. “What would be really helpful for a fully informed public input would be a much greater release of current documents designated as confidential so the general public would be able to thoroughly consider all aspects of the case before making comment.”

In an email, Linda Berry, a spokeswoman for KCC, said “a public comment period has been contemplated from the beginning.”

“But there was a question as to what the right timing was,” she said. “Now that the three informational workshops addressing the different aspects of the plan have been held and all parties in the docket have filed their comments, the commission felt it was the right time to reach out to the public for input.”

Members of the public who wish to comment on the STP can find information on it on the KCC’s website.  Comments can be submitted online, via email to [email protected] or via mail to the agency’s Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection at 1500 SW Arrowhead, Topeka, KS 66614.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.