Kansas solar panel users may soon pay more for electricity

SHAWNEE, Kan. — More people are choosing to install solar panels on their roofs in an effort to save money on their electric bill, but a new ruling by the Kansas Corporation Commission gives electric utilities the opportunity to charge people with solar panels a higher rate.

David Smith who is building a new house for his family in Shawnee, Kansas says he’s frustrated about the new ruling.

“Family of five, we go through a lot of electricity,” said Smith.

Which is why he reached out to a local solar energy company to find out if there was a way to bring down that cost.

Smith learned that installing solar panels on his new roof would be very effective, in fact, the panels would pay for themselves in about 8 years.

In the process, they would also cut his electric bill way down.

“I had a $600 bill in my last house and the guy did the calculations on what we’re going to put in and he told me that bill would be $85,” said Smith.

When he heard this, Smith says deciding to install the panels was a no-brainer, but now he’s learning that cheaper bill may not be quite what he expected.

The Kansas Corporation Commission ruled on Thursday that electric utility companies may now treat customers who generate their own power as a separate class. This means people with solar panels may be charged a higher rate in order to help pay their fair share of the cost of maintaining the power grid.

Gina Penzig from Westar Energy says this was something that needed to be adjusted for a long time.

“This allows us to update prices for customers who are using the power grid not just to buy power from Westar, but who are also using that power grid to save energy and use it later,” said Penzig.

The ruling makes sense for energy companies, but those trying to make solar panels more appealing for homeowners are concerned.

“We install them to lower people’s utility bills,” said Josh McCrary who owns LiveSmart Construction.

McCrary says he has installed solar panels on hundreds of homes this year and a ruling like this could slow things down.

“It definitely offsets the benefits of going solar. I mean, we go solar to save money,” said McCrary.

People in Kansas do still receive a tax break from installing solar panels.

Penzig says there is a lot of work that still needs to be done and they are not sure exactly what the rate will be for people that have solar panels. She also says it is likely these changes will not take effect until fall of 2018.

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