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Energy and Environment

Westar And Kansas Solar Panel Owners Butting Heads Over Rate Proposal

Stephen Koranda
Opponents of Westar's plan carry yellow umbrellas to show their support for solar energy.

Supporters of solar energy and the electricity utility Westar Energy are sparring over a proposal that would increase costs for customers with solar panels. Kansas regulators held a hearing on the plan last night in Topeka.

Gina Penzig, with Westar, says customers with solar panels get to use the company’s electric grid to buy electricity when they need it, but they currently aren’t paying as much as other customers for that service.

“Customers who don’t have solar panels--maybe they can’t have them, they might rent, their roof might not be the right orientation--are paying a little extra to help cover the costs for those who do,” Penzig says.

Bill Dorsett, from Manhattan, installed solar panels on his home. He says solar customers are actually giving Westar a good deal. Homes with solar panels aren’t always using all the electricity they generate, and Westar gets to buy back the excess at a reduced rate.

“It can either be neutral, or it can actually be positive for other ratepayers. We may be supplying more valuable electricity to the grid than we’re being credited for,” Dorsett says.

The plan would also raise electricity rates for customers to pay for power plant updates. The average bill would go up by around $13 per month.

The Kansas Corporation Commission is considering Westar’s proposal. They’re taking public comments on the plan by phone and email through August 11. There’s also another public hearing on the issue Thursday in Wichita.