Regulators reject Evergy proposals to recover solar costs

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Utility regulators on Thursday denied Evergy’s plan for replacing a household charge for solar users that had been previously struck down by the state Supreme Court.

The Kansas Corporation Commission rejected two options proposed by the utility: a $35 minimum electric bill to recover the cost of demand it says solar-powered homes placed on the electric grid or a fee of $3 per month per kilowatt, or roughly $20 a month.

“Many states, including Kansas, are struggling to appropriately value residential (solar) resources, while ensuring those customers pay their fair share to support the grid,” KCC Chairman Andrew French said in a statement.

“Evergy’s proposals weren’t the right way to address these concerns under current law, but the issue won’t go away. We need to look for new solutions,” French said.

The commission encouraged Evergy to explore modern rate designs that address the subsidization of solar power for future rate cases.

Environmentalists called the KCC’s decision a “big win.”\

“This ruling is a victory not only for clean and renewable energy in Kansas, but for all of Evergy’s customers,” said Ty Gorman, Kansas campaign representative with the Sierra Club

“They will now avoid the unfair and unnecessary minimum bill that Evergy was proposing,” Gorman said in a statement.

Evergy proposed new types of fees after the state Supreme Court  found that utility companies couldn’t charge homeowners more than other consumers for using solar panels to produce their own energy.

The court found that a demand fee the Evergy levied against customers who installed rooftop solar panel systems violated state law because it was discriminatory.

The court said the KCC erred by approving the charge, which environmentalists called “morally and economically unfair.”

Evergy assessed the original demand fee  — $3 per kilowatt a month in the winter and $9 per kilowatt a month in the summer — saying that solar users should pay for their share of maintaining the power grid.

The utility contended that just because a customer conserves energy doesn’t mean lower fixed capital costs, such as investments in power plants, poles, meters, billing and customer service, for the company.

While solar customers purchase less energy, the cost of serving those customers does not decline by a corresponding amount, the utility has argued.

Evergy spokeswoman Gina Penzig said that utility was reviewing the KCC’s order.

“We support solar energy and customer efforts at sustainability,” Penzig said.

“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.

Penzig said customers who have private solar will be placed on a rate that is the same as the utility’s standard residential rate.

The KCC staff recommended a $35 minimum electric bill instead of the so-called grid access fee that would have charged $3 per month per kilowatt.

The staff feared that the  grid access fee would have violated the state Supreme Court ruling, saying that the $35 minimum bill would have applied to all housholds equally.

“More than 1000 Kansans opposed Evergy’s grid access fee and minimum bill. We appreciate the KCC’s consideration of fair and just policies for all ratepayers,” said Dorothy Barnett, Executive Director of Climate + Energy Project.

“It’s time for a discussion about the economic, environmental, and grid benefits rooftop solar can provide for Kansas and we look forward to that conversation,” Barnett said.