Evergy asked Missouri regulators to allow customers to opt out of controversial time-of-use pricing, which places a premium on electricity used during times of high demand. (Courtesy of Evergy)
The largest utility in western Missouri has requested permission to allow customers to opt out of controversial time-of-use pricing plans imposed by state regulators.
Evergy is expected under an order from the Missouri Public Service Commission to implement time-of-use pricing, which places a premium on electricity prices at times of high demand, starting next month.
This summer, as customers were asked to select one of the new plans, Evergy saw blowback from those concerned their bills would skyrocket. Under one of the plans, power used on summer days between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. — when residents are most likely to be using their air conditioners — would be almost four times as expensive as the rest of the day.
The company also drew fire from Missouri Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, who in July accused state regulators of trying to ration power, gouge customers and force a transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
In a request to alter the program, filed Friday with the Missouri Public Service Commission, Evergy said it received a “substantial” number of complaints on social media about the new pricing mechanism.
“The tone of the comments is mostly negative and speaks to customer frustration with being forced to move rates because Evergy is trying to spike customer bills to increase profits,” the filing says.
And in June, Ameren Missouri, which serves the St. Louis area, was allowed to roll out optional time-of-use pricing for its electric customers.
Citing customer discontent and commissioners’ suggestions at a meeting last month of possible amendments to the time-of-use pricing program, Evergy asked the commission’s permission for several changes.
In a news release, Evergy said it believed a traditional flat-rate plan should be an option for customers who may not be able to shift their electricity usage.
“Evergy has always advocated for customer rate choice and does not support mandated time-based rates,” said Chuck Caisley, the company’s chief customer officer. “Customers, elected officials and other stakeholders have clearly voiced their concerns about mandating summer peak pricing, and we appreciate that the commission is willing to listen to this feedback.”
Most significantly, Evergy asked permission to allow customers to return to a traditional flat-rate pricing plan starting in May. With the new plans going into effect next month, offering a return to a traditional plan in May “would have the added advantage of allowing all residential customers to experience one of the (time-of-use) options before choosing to return to the traditional residential rate structure,” the company’s filing says.
The company also asked permission to change the default plan from its “Standard Peak Saver,” which nearly quadruples the price of energy on summer afternoons, to the “Peak Reward Saver,” which has a much smaller price increase at that times and a discount for power used between midnight and 6 a.m.
The reward saver plan, according to Evergy’s website, is the closest to its current standard plan. But prices per kilowatt hour can increase throughout the month depending on the amount of energy used.
In its Friday filing, Evergy also asked the commission’s permission to restrict customers’ ability to switch rate plans. Specifically, if a customer switches from one rate plan to another, the customer wants to require that they wait a year before switching back. They could switch to a third plan at any time.
“Evergy is concerned that customers may move from one of the three ‘high differential’…rates…and into one of the two ‘low differential’ rates…to take advantage of seasonal differences in the rates,” the filing says.
Evergy said it “cannot recover its costs to serve if customers take seasonal advantage of this difference.”
The commission initially instructed Evergy to implement mandatory time-of-use pricing because while the company has been installing smart meters in customers homes for years, most of the benefits, including being able to remotely disconnect customers who haven’t paid their bills, have flowed to the utility.
In an interview with The Independent last week, O’Laughlin said she’s asking regulators to suspend the decision or reverse it.
“If they do not, then you will see legislation coming through, which I believe both Democrats and Republicans will support, that will remove some of their power and likely make it much more difficult for people to get on that commission,” she said.
The Missouri Public Service Commission scheduled a hearing to discuss Evergy’s request for Sept. 19.
The Independent’s Rudi Keller contributed to this report.
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