Util­ity shut-offs sus­pended for much of Kansas City

The Kansas City Star - - Business - BY STEVE VOCKRODT svock­[email protected]­star.com Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vock­rodt

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.

BO RADER The Wi­chita Ea­gle

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.

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