A top executive with Westar Energy told the Kansas Corporation Commission Tuesday that the utility needs a nearly $91 million rate increase to help retain its employees, upgrade its transmission grid and provide the level of service customers expect.


A top executive with Westar Energy told the Kansas Corporation Commission Tuesday that the utility needs a nearly $91 million rate increase to help retain its employees, upgrade its transmission grid and provide the level of service customers expect.

But a lawyer representing residents and small businesses said the utility could meet its obligations with a smaller rate hike, particularly because ratepayers have already shouldered a more than 50 percent increase in average bills in the last decade, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/tlOtk7).

Rates have jumped by $123 million since 2008, using line-item charges that ratepayers don't scrutinize as closely as an overall rate hike, said David Springe, chief consumer counsel for the Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board. That is in addition to the rate cases that have brought about $147 million in increases.

Greg Greenwood, Westar's senior vice president of strategy, said the rate increase will allow the state's largest utility to retain skilled employees who "go out in the dark of night in the worst of weather." And he said the utility needs to meet federal mandates for employee pension funds, environmental compliance, transmission grid upgrades and energy efficiency.

Greenwood also said Westar's cost increase for essentials since 1991 has doubled.

The hike would give shareholders a 10.6 percent return on their investments, up from the current 10.4 percent.

Springe said he understands federal regulations aren't controlled by the commission, but the commission could drop the 10.6 percent shareholder return to 9.6 percent.

"If I can convince commissioners to lower it 1 percent, that's $29 million in rates (saved)," he said.

Westar officials said if the entire utility's proposal is granted, the utility's rates will be 15 percent below the national average rather than about 20 percent.

Westar's requested rate bump of 5.85 percent would add about $6.44 per month to the average 900 kilowatt-hour residential electric bill.

A second public hearing is scheduled Wednesday in Wichita.