As the director of the Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation at the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, I advocate for policies that support the common good. Our community, led by Catholic Sisters, has a more than 150-year history of caring and advocating for those in poverty. They also have a long history of caring for all of God’s creation, including the planet we lovingly call home.
In the interest of protecting the planet, we have several residences powered by rooftop solar. It is this issue that prompts me to share my thoughts with Kansans in this medium.
You have likely heard about the recent Evergy proposal to increase rates for consumers either by adding an additional grid access fee for solar users or implementing a minimum bill for all ratepayers. Evergy’s proposal suggests that solar users are taking more than their fair share and non-solar users are paying more as a result. That is not true.
Any consumer of energy has many tools at their disposal that would reduce their use of energy, and thus would fall under the "free rider" definition Evergy uses to characterize solar users as receiving more benefit than they’re paying.
Evergy’s goal is to sell more power. Solar users do not buy as much power since they generate their own. But their excess generation goes back on the grid and Evergy gets to sell that. Further, many ratepayers are not buying as much electricity today as they were a decade ago, though your bill probably does not reflect this because of rate increases.
Today, Evergy does not penalize you for doing more to make your home more energy efficient. But who is to say it won’t in the future?
Solar users are not the problem in Evergy’s business model. While Evergy goes to great lengths in its expert testimony to demonstrate that solar customers "dramatically reduce" the amount of power that they buy from Evergy, it fails to mention the benefit that solar customers provide to both electric utilities and other Kansans.
Our cost-benefit analysis must extend beyond narrow dollar definitions and recognize the necessity of encouraging programs that mitigate the disastrous impacts of climate change. In Evergy’s annual report, it is projected to use 17 million tons of coal in 2020. And while it may have the right to do that, public policy must encourage the adoption of renewables as soon as possible as climate change poses significant threats to vulnerable populations.
Perhaps more troubling, the minimum bill proposal is a regressive fee structure that unfairly hurts lower-income Kansans by taking a higher percentage of their household income. According to Evergy's own testimony, the $35 minimum bill requirement would mean a higher monthly bill for nearly 130,000 customers making less than $25,000 a year.
Particularly during a pandemic where many Kansans find themselves unemployed and underemployed, our Sisters are encountering Kansans who need assistance with utilities, rent, food and other basic needs. To implement a new minimum bill at a time like this for Kansans seems to me, unconscionable.
I urge the Kansas Corporation Commission to reject new charges that may be imposed on customers with solar generation to appropriately reflect the significant risks associated with long term fossil fuel reliance. Those harms are real even if they cannot be quantified into a current cost-benefit analysis model, and the future and social benefits are a net good for Kansans.
Rejecting Evergy’s proposal makes economic and moral sense because solar energy benefits our economies, our communities, our consumers and our common home, the earth.
John Shively is the director of the Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation at Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in Leavenworth.