Update: On the evening of Sept. 18, Evergy filed another application with state regulators to withdraw most of the requests described in this article. Only the requested change of the “default” rate plan remained in effect. Read the Sept. 19 update here.
In a motion for “expedited treatment” filed Sept. 8 with the Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utility monopolies in the state, Evergy requested four changes to its new rate program:
Changing the “default” rate to a plan with less time-based variation in prices
Reintroducing a flat rate option next May, effectively allowing customers to “opt out” of the time-of-use program
Restricting customers’ ability to switch between rate plans in order to “mitigate adverse revenue impacts”
Revising the amount of money the company needs for education and outreach about the program
Experts say that to request changes like these just 22 days before the program’s Oct. 1 rollout date is practically unprecedented.
“I’ve never really seen anything like this before,” said Geoff Marke, the chief economist for Missouri’s Office of the Public Counsel, a small group of lawyers tasked with protecting utility customers’ interests at the state level.
“If they pivot here, it’s obviously going to cause a lot of confusion in a situation that probably already has a degree of confusion.”
Marke told The Star that utility rate requests usually take around nine months for state regulators to process, giving his office and other interested parties time to research Evergy’s claims and respond with questions and testimony.
But Evergy also filed for expedited treatment, including waivers that would allow its requested rate changes to go into effect with less than 30 days’ notice. That gave Marke and his team only seven business days to prepare for a hearing on the changes originally scheduled for Tuesday.
The commission canceled that hearing Monday, and instead plans to respond to Evergy’s new requests during its agenda meeting on Thursday.
We don’t know yet how commissioners will respond to the requests, including whether they will require the company to delay the entire time-of-use program in order to educate customers on the changes.
In a press release last week, Evergy claimed that the request is related to the company “advocating for customer rate choice,” adding that it has asked state regulators for a decision on the changes by the end of September.
But Marke points to another motivation for the request: money.
“The company is not going to go bankrupt or anything, but (time-of-use rates) could impact their immediate, quarterly earnings calls,” he said. “If you’re an investor-owned utility, that’s got to be at the forefront of your focus.”
Evergy may also have a better chance at getting their way due to the recent addition of a new state utility commissioner, Kayla Hahn. In recent weeks, Hahn has indicated support for the company’s wishes to make time-based rates optional, leading to Evergy’s recent filing.
On Aug. 30, “some Commissioners signaled a desire to make updates to their November 2022 order requiring mandated time-based rate plans,” Evergy wrote in its press release.
Renewable energy nonprofit Renew Missouri also expressed its opposition to Evergy’s requests in its own filing on Friday, saying that public confusion about time-of-use rate plans isn’t a good enough reason to change them at the last minute.
“Customer misunderstanding or political agitation is not a sufficient justification to allow Evergy to reverse course at the eleventh hour, circumventing proper procedure and creating poor precedent for the weight given to Commission orders,” the group wrote. “Evergy’s (application) seeks to create rushed and poorly thought-out policy with broad implications.”
Do you have more questions about utilities in Kansas or Missouri? Ask the Service Journalism team at firstname.lastname@example.org.