Westar customers with solar panels may have to pay extra

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Kansas Corporation Commission heard arguments Wednesday determining whether Westar Energy will be able to levy a surcharge on solar power users.

Westar Communications Manager Gina Penzig says Westar needs the surcharge for users of private generation, like solar power, to offset the cost of maintenance and modern equipment.

"Right now there is a cost shift from customers who do have private generation onto customers who don’t and so this is looking at different ways that we might be able to make sure that we even that out," Penzig explained.

Executive Director of the Climate and Energy Project Dorothy Barnett, says the solar power market is too small for this move.

"We're not sure that it's fair or makes sense to take a small number of solar folks and put them in a separate rate class," said Barnett. "We think that is unfairly penalizing people who have invested their time in solar."

Wednesday’s hearing focused on different price structures.

"Solar is starting to grow in Kansas," said Penzig. "So it's really important that we get those correct price structures in place so that people have the right information to make some really long term important decisions."

Tim Emerson paid $80 to $100 dollars on his monthly utility bill before getting solar panels. Now his monthly cost is just $15 - if KCC approves a surcharge to solar panel owners – he would be paying more. He's worried this may discourage others from being environmentally friendly.

"People do look at a lot of different things when they're deciding to install private generation and this does in fact effect one of those decision points," said Penzig.

The final decision and possible surcharge amount won't be decided until the end of September.