The Kansas Corporation Commission held a virtual public hearing Thursday evening on proposed changes to how Evergy, the state’s largest utility, would charge customers to accommodate solar users.
At least 80 people were in line to make comments, mostly against Evergy’s plans.
Evergy wants to charge those with solar panels a monthly grid access fee of $3 per kilowatt, even if his or her home doesn’t take electricity from the grid. For the average home with panels, that would be about $20 to $30 a month.
Otherwise, the utility company will look to charge all customers a minimum bill of $35 a month. Bills above $35 a month already, however, won’t see additional charges.
The proposals come after the Kansas Supreme Court said the original plan was discriminatory, as it had solar users pay an additional special demand charge.
The changes are needed, said Ahmad Faruqui in a testimony filing, speaking on behalf of Evergy.
"A large portion of the cost to serve customers is fixed. It does not go down with volume. So, (solar) customers do not pay the full cost of serving them, thereby creating the free rider problem," he said.
In other words, solar users purchase significantly fewer energy from the grid (which may be needed when there is no sun up, for example), but the fixed cost of connecting them to the grid doesn’t decrease. That discrepancy needs to be addressed, Faruqui said.
Additionally, unlike the non-solar user who simply takes power from the grid, solar users only take from and transmit electricity to the grid at various times, which "can actually increase the utility’s costs to serve customers by complicating system planning, managing load flow, and system dispatch and by imposing additional administrative, transactional, accounting and billing burdens on customer service operations," testified Faruqui.
Solar advocates, however, have pushed back on Evergy’s plans, saying the move is aimed at discouraging people from adopting solar energy.
Robert Rosenburg, an Evergy customer and co-director of the Flint Hills Renewable Energy and Efficency Co-Op, criticized the grid access fee at the public hearing.
"It’s just another discriminatory fee that impacts solar customers only," Rosenburg said.
He also blasted the other option establishing a $35 minimum, saying it was a cross subsidy that affected those who use less energy unfairly.
"Environmentally conscious people are punished, while the large user of electricity is unaffected," he said.
Other speakers made similar arguments, noting that the minimum option would also disproportionately hurt lower-income people.
Evergy has said the proposed grid connection fee doesn’t discriminate because it will be charged to every customer, Kansas News Service reported. Customers without solar panels would be charged the fee, too, but times zero, since they don’t have kilowatts generated by them.
Many at the hearing called for a third-party study on the grid access fee as to whether it is really needed and equitable.
Some also questioned the logic of needing a fee on solar users in the first place, noting how solar users export electricity to the grid that a few advocates claimed Evergy actually makes a profit from.
"I’m producing more electricity than I have in the previous years, and for some reason, I’m still paying the electricity bill," said Dean Carrico, a solar user. "If you want to charge me more, my connection fee, I’d like to know where my extra energy is going. That’s leaving me; I’m not even getting credit for it, but you also want to charge me more money to be hooked up to the grid."
Erik Keltner, an engineer in the power plant industry, said he understood and has seen the infrastructural and financial burdens that come from renewable generation on the grid.
But he proposed another solution instead of the two offered by the company.
"If a customer wants to install solar and connect to the grid, they should be required to install batteries or other forms of energy storage that the grid uses during times when renewable energy generation decreases, can we stabilize, therefore greatly reducing if not eliminating the need for Evergy to make up the difference," he said.
Keltner later explained to The Topeka Capital-Journal that having a battery would like be having an extra "sun" for when the sun goes down, and therefore, there would be much less of the costly using-then-not-using of the grid by solar users.
One state lawmaker made an appearance. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, advocated against Evergy’s proposals, like most others.
The options "serve to hurt ratepayers as opposed to help them," she said. "This is particularly problematic during these difficult economic times," referring to the coronavirus pandemic.