WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – For users of private residential solar energy, this week brought a win from the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), the state’s organization that oversees public utilities. The KCC rejected two fee proposals from Evergy related to the use of rooftop solar, but the decision does not settle a bigger issue.
Going back to 2018, then Westar Energy (before its inclusion in a merger led to the formation of Evergy) proposed a demand charge on private solar customers. Environmental and solar groups challenged this demand all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court, which last year ruled the demand charge billed by Wester (now Evergy) was discriminatory.
“The demand charge was a very unfair rate, and the way it was calculated was complicated,” said Clean Energy Business Council Lobbyist Jessica Lucas.
That led to Thursday’s KCC meeting, where the commission rejected the two rate proposals for customers with rooftop solar. The first now rejected proposal was a monthly grid access charge (GAC) of $3 per kilowatt.
“Under this approach, the proposed GAC is too similar to the demand charge that the Supreme Court found to be discriminatory,” KCC General Counsel Brian Feddotin said.
KCC commissioners said this isn’t a rejection of the grid-access-charge concept. Evergy’s other proposal, essentially shot down by the KCC was a $35 monthly minimum fee for all customers.
READ KCC’S FULL ORDER:
After the KCC’s decision, Evegry said solar customers will be charged the standard residential rate, and non-solar customers’ rates won’t change.
Statement from Evergy:
“Evergy is reviewing the KCC order regarding rates for customers with private solar generation. We support solar energy and customer efforts at sustainability. We believe that we need to continue to work with stakeholders to find an alternative rate that protects non-solar customers from subsidizing those who have solar generation.
Customers who have private solar will be placed on a rate that is the same as our standard residential rate. The order will not change rates for non-solar customers.”
Evergy has about 1,100 customers on private solar.
For groups supporting solar energy, this will open the market and interest in clean energy technology.
“We believe that solar users are indeed paying their fair share, and by virtue of being able to put power back on the grid and for their neighbors to use that power, there are a lot of benefits,” Lucas said.
Lucas said these benefits aren’t calculated into the rates for private solar.
In a statement, Evergy said while it supports solar energy, it also has to “find an alternative rate that protects non-solar customers from subsidizing those who have solar generation,” saying that adding private solar power to the grid is another service.
The KCC said it has time to work on this before Evergy’s rate reevaluation in two years.
“If you look at the summertime, that’s a very, very expensive time for utilities. When you have solar uses who are generating electricity during the most expensive time of operation, they’re not relying on the grid for their power, which means you don’t have to fire up expense peaker plants. So, solar offsets the need for utilities to buy electricity at their most expensive time because your solar users are generating that. I think that when you say solar isn’t paying their fair share, we don’t believe that. What we hope the KCC will continue to look at is how do we value those benefits, and then you look at the costs and then what is the best route forward. I think the conversation isn’t over,” Lucas said.
On the issue, the KCC said it needs some direction from the Kansas legislature through something like a state energy plan. A House committee is working on a bill creating the framework for a state plan. On Thursday, (Feb. 25), that bill moved to a full vote of the House Chamber.
“We (Kansas) don’t have the policies right, so it has been a lot of hurdles in place. This removes a hurdle and makes solar a better option for potential customers. We think energy choice is important, and today’s ruling gives customers more choices. So if you’re interested in solar, today is a much better time to look at that without these discriminatory charges, and I would say this is an area of growth for us. We’re a top ten state for solar generation, and it has real potential.” Lucas said, “We hope that we can continue to improve the policies so that it’s fair and just and everyone has a chance to use the kind of energy they deem best for their families at a fair and reasonable rate.”
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