By ALLISON KITE
Regulators’ opposition could unravel a consensus plan to provide millions of dollars in energy efficiency programs to Evergy’s Kansas customers.
Evergy, the largest electric utility in Kansas, came to agreement with consumer and environmental advocates on a variety of programs meant to lower energy demand and save customers close to $100 million over four years.
The plan requires approval by the Kansas Corporation Commission. But objections by staff of the KCC mean there are now two proposals: the original and one that cuts the programs by more than 80%.
“The KCC staff and Evergy have basically stripped from the initial agreement almost everything,” said Ty Gorman, Kansas representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
Evergy has had energy efficiency programs — including financing for home upgrades and weatherization — in Missouri for years. But establishing those same programs in Kansas has proven difficult.
The company filed with the KCC almost a year ago to establish a series of programs and later reached an agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board and other stakeholders that it estimated would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount comparable to taking tens of thousands of cars off the road.
But KCC staff objected, saying the programs would benefit Evergy more than ratepayers. Now, commissioners will decide between the two competing proposals. Evergy has signed onto both, but advocates aren’t signing onto the version supported by KCC staff.
“We don’t believe it’s better than nothing,” said Dave Nickel, consumer counsel for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, which represents residential and small business energy users. “We think it goes the opposite way.”
CURB and environmental groups worked for months to reach a consensus to both reduce emissions and provide programs to help low-income customers.
“It’s just awful what they agreed to, but there was agreement to move both the initial settlement and this new settlement forward and let the commissioners decide,” said Ashok Gupta, senior energy economist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Evergy’s spokeswoman, Gina Penzig, said in a statement that either the original agreement or the smaller set of programs would be a “positive step forward for Evergy’s Kansas customers.”
“For more than a decade, Evergy’s Missouri customers have benefitted from energy efficiency programs, and we want to offer programs to our Kansas customers,” she said. “Investing in energy efficiency helps customers use less energy and lower their bills, which is good for household budgets and makes businesses more competitive.”
The KCC’s spokeswoman, Linda Berry, said in a statement that staff “remains supportive of the initial slate of programs.”
“Staff also supports the smaller set contained in the alternative agreement because it preserves low-income and educational programs while drastically reducing the costs Evergy would require to implement these programs, thus reducing the amount customers will have to pay for the programs,” Berry said.
Evergy, consumer advocates and environmental groups argue reducing customers’ energy demands is cheaper than building new power plants or renewable energy, meaning that, in the long-run, even customers who don’t directly take advantage of the programs will benefit.
And Kansas is behind nearly every state in its investment in energy efficiency policies and programs. The state ranks 47th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Now the KCC could have a hearing on the new proposal in early December, before Evergy and stakeholders file briefs to persuade the commissioners to pass one package or another. The KCC is expected to make a decision in mid-February.