Utility shut-offs suspended for much of Kansas City
The Kansas Corporation Commission, a state agency that regulates investor-owned utility providers in the state, took the extraordinary step on Monday of suspending service disconnections until at least April 15.
The KCC’s emergency order goes into effect immediately in response to the spread of the coronavirus, a pandemic that threatens deep economic consequences as an increasing number of businesses and institutions are closing or having employees work remotely. The KCC regulates mostly investor-owned electric, water and gas providers.
On the Kansas side of the Kansas City area, the KCC’s order covers Evergy, the dominant electric provider in eastern Kansas, as well as Atmos Energy and Kansas Gas Service, both of which provide natural gas to much of eastern Kansas.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly had declared a state of emergency on March 12 in response to the worldwide spread of COVID-19, the form of coronavirus that’s caused the pandemic. The World Health Organization had declared the spread of coronavirus a pandemic the day before.
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge, and Kansans may face unexpected or unusual financial difficulties,” Kelly said in a statement. “No one should have to worry about losing utility service needed to ensure public safety, which is why I am bringing every resource to bear to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy. Kansans step up in a time of need, and this is more proof.”
The KCC’s order is in keeping with other utilities that have voluntarily suspended disconnections to ratepayers behind on their bills.
On Monday, the Board of Public Utilities, the ratepayer-owned provider of electricity and water to residents and businesses in most of Wyandotte County, issued a temporary moratorium on service disconnections. The BPU encouraged customers to stay current with their bills and to avoid getting too far behind.
The BPU is not regulated by the KCC, but rather an independently elected board of directors.
Evergy last Friday announced it also would not cut off electricity to residential and business customers on a temporary basis. Evergy provides electricity to most of the Kansas City region with notable exceptions of the BPU and Independence Power & Light.
A spokesperson for Independence shut-offs for Independence Power & Light and its water utility have been suspended until further notice.
Spire Inc., the natural gas supplier for much of the Missouri side of the Kansas City region, is stopping disconnections and late fees through May 1. Spire’s website encouraged customers to contact the company if they were having difficulties paying bills.
Kansas City Water Services, provider of water in Kansas City, Missouri, said last Friday it was suspending shut-offs.
“We know that washing hands is an important defense to this virus, so during these challenging times, we want to make sure every customer has access to clean running water,” said Terry Leeds, director of Kansas City Water Services, in a statement.
A spokesperson for WaterOne was not immediately available for comment, but the provider of water to large portions of Johnson County said in a tweet that it would halt shut-offs.
Olathe, which has its own water utility, is also suspending water shutoffs. A city spokesperson said the water department was always willing to work with customers on payment plans.
Evergy provides electricity to most of the Kansas City region with notable exceptions of the BPU and Independence Power & Light. Evergy’s Jeffrey Energy Center is a coal-fired plant near St. Marys.