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Energy and Environment

Solar Advocates Decry Westar's New Billing Plans

Dave Dugdale, flickr Creative Commons

Westar Energy's request for new financial setups for households with solar panels has raised concerns among solar advocates who say the arrangements could take away the cost savings of installing solar panels.

"If the proposal gets through as proposed by Westar, I don't know that it's going to eliminate solar installations, but it would make it not economically feasible for a lot of customers," said Mark Horst, a partner in Hutchinson-based King Solar.

As part of a $152 million rate case Westar filed in March, the utility requested two new ways of calculating bills, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The goal isn't to harm solar panel users, Penzig said, but to ensure they pay something toward the costs of operating the grid, since solar energy doesn't cover most homes' total energy needs.

The current plan includes a flat customer charge and charge per kilowatt-hour used. People who have their own generating power could stay on that plan, Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said. But she said people who install new capacity after Oct. 28 would have to choose between the two new plans.

The "stability" plan would raise the flat customer charge every household pays but lower the fuel charge, which is based on how much the customer uses. That would raise costs for solar panel owners because they use fewer kilowatt-hours, and the flat charge is the largest part of their bill, Horst said.

Penzig said the stability plan aims to give people a way to spread out their costs paying more in low-use months than they do under the current plan, but less than in high-demand months.

A "residential demand" plan would lower the service charge and fuel charge, but add a "demand" charge based on the customer's peak monthly usage. The disadvantage for solar customers is they would be charged a fee based on how much capacity they have installed, Horst said.

Under either plan, it would take longer for solar users to see savings from solar energy, Horst said.

"You don't have much of an incentive," he said.