Kansas consumers to receive $1.4 million from e-book settlement

Kansas consumers are expected to receive more than $1.4 million from legal settlements with e-book publishers, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today.

The settlements reached with five of the six largest e-book publishers in 2012 and 2013 – Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Simon and Schuster Inc., Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, doing business as Macmillan, and Penguin Group (USA) Inc. – resolved price fixing claims brought against the companies by Schmidt and the attorneys general of 32 other states.

“A free market requires that prices be fairly set by competition in the marketplace,” Schmidt said. “When competitors collaborate to set the price of a product above the fair market value, consumers lose. Our office will continue to protect consumers from unlawful, anticompetitive business practices.”

Restitution to consumers is being provided in the form of either credit to their e-book accounts or a refund check.

Consumers who purchased e-books between April 2010 and May 2012 should watch their email accounts for information on how to receive restitution, the attorney general’s office stated.

More information is available on the attorney general’s consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org.

A separate case in which Kansas is involved remains pending against Apple Inc., in federal court in New York. In July 2013, a federal judge found that Apple played a central role in the e-book price fixing conspiracy. The next phase of that trial, which will determine the amount of damages, is scheduled to begin later this year.

Repeal of renewable energy standards ready for Senate floor

by Trevor Graff, KHI News Service

Topeka — The repeal Kansas standards for renewable energy generation may be debated by the full Senate after members of the Senate Utilities committee today recommended a bill to eliminate them.

The party line vote, with Republicans favoring the bill and Democrats opposed, can allow floor action on the topic, though similar legislation to roll back the standards failed before the Senate last year.

The bill’s proponents said that despite the lack of information showing the standards’ add much to electrical prices, they were convinced repealing them would either lower rates or discourage future increases.

“The proponents said they didn’t know if this would reduce the rates, but it would definitely prolong the rates from going up,” said Sen. Robert Olson, an Olathe Republican. “It’s also a mandate. I believe it will lower rates. It won’t increase rates.”

The panel’s Democrats disagreed. Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, said that with the recent launch of an integrated electricity market by the Southwest Power Pool, a power grid that connects Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Arkansas, the committee should not be sending a negative message to utility companies.

“Without having anymore information about the affect of that very recent (March 1) change, I think we could be sending this signal this year and turning around and saying, ‘Oh my gosh we want our utility companies to be players in that market so we can reduce the cost of energy for our customers,’” Francisco said.

Most utility companies in the state already meet the renewable standards, according to the bill’s opponents, and several national corporations are beginning to seek states with renewable energy standards for their sustainable manufacturing initiatives.

“If what we’re trying to do is add jobs in Kansas we need to be very careful that we’re not putting barriers in front of economic development and making this state less attractive to national firms.”

Francisco said. Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican, said that the expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit for wind energy at the end of 2013 changed the nature of the debate this year.

Without the tax credit, he said, wind energy costs are going to rise.

“If we continue down this road and have to build wind to cover our RPS, it’s going to cost us significantly,” Knox said. “It’s going to cost the ratepayer. We’ve built way ahead of the RPS. This is the way business works and that’s where we’re going here is saying let’s let business do it’s thing.”

The state’s leading regulated electric utility companies, such as Westar, did not weigh in on the bill for or against.

“Since we are reasonably close to the standards that we’re looking for I do think that this will have a negative impact on the competition of the state,” said Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat. “I think that we want to create jobs and a good state economy and I don’t see that removing the RPS, in any way, will get us to that joint goal.”

Hawk and Francisco voted against the bill.

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