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Midwest Energy to hold vote on self-regulation

Published 3/23/2013 in Business : Business

By The Telegram

With an eye toward bringing more local control to its utility, Midwest Energy will put a vote to its 49,000 customer-owners on whether to become a self-regulated utility.

Ballots will be sent by mail April 4 and customer-owners have until May 10 to return them to an independent accounting firm, Adams, Brown, Beran & Ball of Hays. Tabulation will be done by two Adams, Brown staffers supervised by a certified public accountant. Results should be known a few days after May 10 and will be widely distributed, including on the company's website, mwenergy.com.

Midwest serves electric and natural gas customers in a 41-county area, with Scott County being the nearest to Garden City. The only natural gas and electrical provider in Kansas and one of a handful of its type nationwide, Midwest is a combination of Mid-Kansas Electric Cooperative and Central Kansas Power Co. It has been Midwest Energy since 1981, Director of Corporate Communications Mike Morley said.

Members of 27 of the 29 Kansas electric cooperatives have voted to self-regulate since the legislature first allowed it in 1992, but the way the statute was written, Morley said Midwest could not take advantage back then because it also provided gas. The law was amended by 2010 to add natural gas cooperatives. "We've only had a chance to do it for a couple of years, so this is our first go at self-regulation," he said.

The utility has a nine-member board, including Louise Berning of Scott City, with five director districts. Board members serve three-year terms. Presentations have been given to civic groups around its service area and Morley said the response has been "overwhelmingly positive.

"Granted most of these groups tend to be business owners who tend to understand the burden of regulations," Morley said in a telephone interview.

He said he's taken some calls from people with questions about self-regulation, but people have been pleased once they get the answers.

The way rates work now, Morley said, the company compiles a rate case that goes to the Kansas Corporation Commission, and unless you're a "policy wonk" who reads the cases, you wouldn't know what was going on.

The advantages of going self-regulated are efficiency, transparency and local control. Anytime there is a vote to be taken, a notice would have to be issued and the public invited to the meetings. It's estimated the utility would save about $400,000 a year in assessments, legal fees and staff overhead to name a few items.

The statute that allows for self-regulation includes a petition process, so customers can appeal rates they feel are excessive. The KCC can investigate, force the utility to refund the excessive amount and reset the rates.

"Where you get the gains is local control and a responsive board" that can respond faster than a regulated utility.

An informational meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 2 at the Scott County Library, 110 W. Eighth St. Those attending will be able to ask questions of management and its board of directors.

Other meetings are planned for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room F30 of the Barton Community College Fine Arts Building; 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 108 of the Student Union at Colby Community College; and at 6:30 p.m. April 4 in the Robbins Center, One Tiger Place, Fort Hays State University.

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