Kansas regulators reject Evergy's solutions to charge more to accommodate solar customers

Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
A solar array in Baldwin City built and operated by Evergy.

The Kansas Corporation Commission made the decision Thursday to reject both of Evergy's proposed solutions to accommodate solar users.

Instead, "it would be better policy to wait until Evergy's next general rate case to address the subsidization issue more holistically," said Brian Fedotin, general counsel for KCC.

Residential solar users will remain a separate class of users for tracking purposes, but they will be charged the identical rates as standard residential customers.   

Evergy had wanted to charge people with solar panels a monthly grid access fee of $3 per kilowatt, even if their home doesn’t take electricity from the grid. For the average home with panels, that would be about $20 to $30 a month.

Otherwise, it wanted to charge all its customers a minimum bill of $35 per month. Bills already above $35 per month, however, won't see additional charges.

Either of the company's proposed options would help the company accommodate solar customers, Evergy said, claiming they require additional services through the stress they put on the grid when importing and exporting energy from the grid at various times (instead of the usual one-way taking of electricity from the grid).

KCC's decision came after the Kansas Supreme Court said the original plan was discriminatory, as it had solar users paying an additional special demand charge.

Solar advocates have criticized the new proposals, saying the first is just as discriminatory against solar users and discourages solar usage, while the second plan would disproportionately hurt low-income or low-usage customers. 

While staff at KCC agreed that solar users were being subsidized and liked the minimum bill option, commissioners seemed to mostly disagree and sided with the critics.

"The solutions purported by the company, we believe were flawed," said Commissioner Susan Duffy. "Some may say the commission has kicked the can down the road with this order. Instead, I believe we have given stakeholders an opportunity... to work together and explore the best solution not only for rooftop solar issues but other issues as well."

However, KCC emphasized it was not rejecting the grid access fee concept, just this specific proposed one.

Commissioner Andrew French, who chairs KCC, acknowledged this issue would need to be continued to looked at.

"I am convinced from a technical standpoint that there is some amount of subsidy that flows to (solar) customers associated with their use of the grid," he said, saying he thought the demand charge the state Supreme Court shot down was lawful. 

Evergy has 30 days to implement the changes from this order.

This story was updated to clarify Commissioner French's position on the demand charge.