May 24, 2024

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KCC reverses course, allows retail ratepayer groups to weigh in on transmission project

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Despite calling the brouhaha surrounding a controversial transmission project “a circus” and “drama trauma,” Kansas Corporation Commission Commissioner Susan K. Duffy voted with commission Chairman Dwight Keen to lift restrictions on a commercial ratepayers’ interest group’s ability to intervene in the case.

In early May, in a nearly unprecedented move, the KCC limited the ability of a consumer interest group to intervene on behalf of retail electric ratepayers in a case involving a power transmission project that would grant eminent domain authority to a private company and would see Kansas consumers’ rates increase with no benefit received.

At the time, Duffy and fellow Kelly appointee Andrew J. French voted to restrict the ability of Kansas Industrial Consumers Group and Kansans for Lower Electric Rates, which filed a routine motion to intervene — as they have done many times in the last ten years — disputing whether the new transmission line was “necessary” for Kansas. Keen was the lone dissenting voice and found the order so egregious that he found it necessary — for the first time in four years on the commission — to file a dissenting opinion.

The order at the time said that retail ratepayers didn’t have standing to challenge the necessity of the transmission line because those rates are set by federal agencies — despite the fact that those transmission costs would be passed on directly to Kansas consumers.

KCC changes course

On June 2, 2022, however, the KCC reversed course. KIC had filed a motion to reconsider noting that if KCC chose, it could have prevented KIC from advancing any arguments at all despite being granted limited intervention.

Attorney James Zakoura filed the motion as well as several motions to intervene on behalf of several agricultural groups which would also be impacted by rate increases. The KCC found that those organizations should be allowed to intervene in the case without limitation and that it therefore no longer made sense to limit KIC’s intervention either.

The meeting

At the meeting, however, French said he would not vote for the new order and would have allowed only limited — effectively no — intervention to any of the parties.

“I think that was a well reasoned and logical order,” he said. “I would not have reversed it. I think this order is less well reasoned and logical.”

Duffy, while saying she would join Keen in the new order, was dismissive of the controversy around the project.

“It just seems like we have a lot of drama trauma before we’re even out of the gate, and I want to stay clear and stay focused on the issues,” she said. “Not on the — and I don’t want to use the word circus — oh, I used it — that appears to be going on right now. We’ve got an issue we need to tackle based on the facts of the case.”

The quip drew a chuckle from French — and ire from Keen.

“I wasn’t intending to say anything, but I’m going to now,” Keen said. “I’m going to be very succinct: I don’t think there’s any resemblance to a circus about the procedures taking place here. These are all serious. There are differences of opinion about some subject matter. But I do agree that maybe the differences among the commissioners is (sic) relatively small, but there are differences.”

The background

The Southwest Power Pool, the regional federal electricity transmission organization that covers Kansas and other states, has asked the Kansas Corporation Commission to declare NextEra, the wind developer selected for the project by the SPP, a “public utility.”  Doing so would allow the developer the power of eminent domain — the right to condemn private property from landowners who might not want to sell.

The project would cross farms and ranches in Coffey, Anderson, Allen, Bourbon, and Crawford counties before stretching into Missouri, connecting the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant to a substation in Jasper County, Missouri.

If approved, the line would send electricity that was originally intended to serve the Wichita and Kansas City metro areas to customers in Missouri, but Kansas customers will have to pay for the transmission line via higher electricity rates.

All while already paying some of the highest electric rates in the country.

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