3/10/15

Pay-For-Either Way . . .

I'm not a total hippie. Sure, sure . . . I use all-natural and all-organic personal care products (parabens and petroleums are not meant to be held against the skin) and I try to avoid waste, abuse, and misuse when it comes to energy and the environment but I drink diet soda, I drive a "cross over" and I love beef (one of the world's most prolific harmful gas creators are cows).

I am, generally speaking, in favor of being responsible and I truly believe that you should be rewarded . . . perhaps more accurately not PENALIZED for being responsible.

Yet here comes our leading electricity Overlord here in Wichita (fun fact - a small part of our city is powered by Black Hills Energy) . . . Westar Energy.

Fair and balanced . . . Westar HAS done a fair amount in the last decade or so to ease "grid tension" including programs where they pay for digital thermostats and "smart" meters for homes and building a fairly robust web portal that allows users to look at their usage by the month, and week and where you can set up alerts for usage spikes, etc. This is all good stuff.

But here is where I get anxious . . . these techniques, efforts, and initiatives are working. That's right. Kansans are not using as much electricity off the grid. Maybe it is conservation. Maybe it is solar or wind. Maybe it is the LED bulbs and the "Energy Star" appliances. Maybe it is just random coincidence but - whatever it is - it is eating in to the profits of Westar so . . . they have some new ideas.

About a year ago they announced the "option" to pre-pay for your power. Even a (somewhat) tense exchange with their Twitter-bot (probably some poor junior marketing hack or marketing agency junior exec who saw no pennies from the profits) netted no LOGICAL answer for WHY the company thinks anyone would ever want to pre-pay for power (mind you there was no incentive in terms of capping your bills or allowing points or rewards, etc.). The real reason (in my never-educated opinion)? So they could force deadbeats and underpayers to either establish credit for their power or risk getting cut off. Also . . . if you pre-pay for power and don't use it for whatever reason they get to keep that. Not likely - but lucrative when it happens.

Here's the latest scheme . . . moving to a "flat fee" with reduced prices for usage. In other words Westar wants to charge you $50 or more per month just to have energy flow to your house. Think that seems fair? When I lived in 400 square feet my electric bill was less than $30/month (and was frequently more fees and taxes than power use anyway). That means - in a year - I would pay $744 ($50/month fee plus $12/month in usage times twelve) vs. the only $360/year I paid before. That is more than double per year. Now apply that to the thousands and thousands of households Westar services . . . very, very lucrative.

Now I know, I know. The infrastructure for bringing power to homes is dated and struggling . . . in some areas and in densely populated spots where getting time and access to enhance the system is difficult but if you figure all the wind storms and needed enhancements (many of which have been used for previous rate hikes) and if you factor in the profit margins for the company . . . how does Westar really believe that we should all have to pay more for them to keep afloat?

Think I'm just shouting at the Heavens here? Think the profits and fees Westar charges are in line? The Kansas Corporation Commission agrees with me (and if there is one thing Kansas has made clear - it is FINE with corporate profits and "pro-business" policy).

Long story long . . . if Westar doesn't want to run their high-risk/high-reward utility business in a way that is truly fair and just to them and their customers, they don't have to. There are lots of companies that would, no doubt, love to take their crack at the Kansas energy market . . . you know we could produce more wind power than cows do harmful gases - if only our energy company would not lobby to block it from happening.

Jussayin.