The Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities, which met Wednesday night, will review policies on its cold weather rule, according to BPU President Mary Gonzales.
Both the BPU and Kansas Corporation Commission have cold weather rules, but the BPU’s rule is slightly different from the KCC’s.
The BPU heard from a resident, Jared Emmons, who asked the BPU to adopt the same cold weather rule as the Kansas Corporation Commission. He said there were several advantages to adopting the KCC rules.
According to Emmons, apply the same rule to BPU as other utilities will help eliminate confusion for customers.
Also, he said it would help correct the BPU applying a different standard to cold weather than it does to hot weather, he said.
The change also would allow a buffer for temperature threshold, he said, as the KCC rule is a few degrees higher than the BPU rule. A few degrees higher allows for forecasts that are not perfect, he said.
In addition, the KCC rule provides a 48-hour window after prospective termination, in which if the temperature falls below 35, the power is not disconnected, he said. It protects people who may not be at home at the time of disconnection and do not realize that they may be disconnected, he added.
Emmons also appeared at the last BPU meeting to discuss the cold weather rule. He said in his case, the BPU email about disconnection went to his email spam folder and he never saw it. He said he did not receive a phone call. The phone call is a “courtesy call” under BPU’s policy, and is not required, he said.
He asked the BPU to change its policy by expanding disconnection notice requirements to either provide a written notice to the customer or post a notice at the address.
BPU General Manager Bill Johnson said it would be worthwhile for the board to look at these rules further.
BPU board member David Haley said he was disconcerted that the BPU was not in sync with the rest of the state on the cold weather rule.
Gonzales said she would support this issue being on the BPU’s agenda for a future work session.
Board member Jeff Bryant recalled that the board had a vigorous discussion about the cold weather rule, with some changes, a few years ago. He welcomed the opportunity to revisit it.
Board member Tom Groneman agreed that it was one of the policies that he thought was not particularly well-worded and understandable.
He said the BPU also should review its policy on medical equipment that is allowed on its list of customers whose power shouldn’t be disconnected because of medical reasons.
Johnson said he has already asked the customer service department to look at the differences between the BPU and KCC policies. Differences include how many available days there will be for the BPU to disconnect services, and there is a significant amount of potential impact on revenue, he said.
The board also needs to review the policies so they have a better understanding of them, he said.
KERA payments lagging
On another topic, Johnson reported that he and BPU officials met with KERA (Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance) staff recently to discuss receiving payments in a reasonable time. The BPU is experiencing a longer backlog of accounts from KERA payments, according to Johnson.
Some KERA payments are taking longer than anticipated, he said. The state office has made the decision to hire a contract firm from Texas to catch up on processing these requests, he said. Around 200 contractors will be added to bring the program up to scale, he added.
The KERA website stated that 36,392 total applications were submitted statewide, with 10,470 applications in process, and 14,441 households served. Over $91 million has been disbursed by the program for utility and housing assistance.
The KERA website stated that there were 1,445 total applications in process as of Jan. 24 from Wyandotte County, with 2,678 applications funded from the county, and $12.1 million paid as of Jan. 24 for Wyandotte County residents’ utility and housing bills.
Neighboring Johnson County had received $22.4 million through the KERA program, according to the website.
Also, the number of community partners in Wyandotte County is expanding to help with applications, he said. Already helping in processing applications are Catholic Charities, Avenue of Life, EOF and Build Power Mo-Kan. Others may be added, he said.
As the KERA program continues to wrap up, the BPU is looking to scale back and get to other normal things that it has gotten away from, he said.
In other action, the BPU board heard a report on its employee survey, and also heard that there are plans to do another customer satisfaction survey.
For more information on how to apply for utility assistance through KERA, visit https://kshousingcorp.org/emergency-rental-assistance/ or contact a local social service agency.
Another energy assistance program is LIEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program), a federally funded program that helps eligible households pay a part of their residential energy costs with a one-time per year benefit. Families are eligible if their combined gross income does not exceed 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The LIEAP application period is from Monday, Jan. 3, through Thursday, March 31. Applications and more information is at http://www.dcf.ks.gov/services/ees/Pages/EnergyAssistance.aspx.
BPU customer service representatives are available by phone at 913-573-9190. BPU’s payment arrangement phone line is 913-573-9145 during business hours.