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Solar Advocates Rally Against Westar's Rate Case

Michael Mazengarb
flickr Creative Commons
A change in state regulations could make the installation of home solar panels less attractive to Kansans.

Solar energy advocates protested Westar Energy’s latest rate proposal Thursday and are lobbying state regulators to deny it.

The proposal would create a separate billing class for people who install solar panels on their homes. The change could effectively increase a typical solar user’s bill by as much as 50 percent.

At a rally before a public hearing on the case in Wichita, Dorothy Barnett of the Climate and Energy Project said those changes would essentially wipe away the cost savings solar energy offers. That, in turn, could hurt the state’s few installers.

“Not one of them says we’ll be able to continue to grow our business on the residential side of solar if this goes through,” she said.

Aron Cromwell is the owner of the state’s largest residential solar company. He said Westar’s tactics are part of a nationwide effort by utility companies to curtail solar.

“They’ve got a monopoly on the territory and they want to make sure they also have a monopoly on creation of energy within that,” he said.

State regulators already gave Westar permission to create a separate solar class in a previous ruling. The current proposal mostly formalizes those changes and is unlikely to be rejected by regulators.

Westar executives argue that residential solar users still rely on the electric grid when the sun goes down, and because their bill is offset by their solar use, they aren’t paying their fair share.

The Kansas Corporation Commission is accepting public comment on the proposal online until July 18.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment and energy for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett.

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