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Pittsburg City Council considering public electric utility

Pittsburg’s city officials have taken a comprehensive and deliberate approach to bring the community into the future and promote economic growth through the use of public utilities.  On Jan. 8, city commissioners moved closer to that goal as they approved recommendations to conduct an in-depth analysis into the option of public power.   

Public power means homes and businesses are run on electricity provided by a not-for-profit, locally owned utility and similar to public schools, parks, and libraries, are local institutions that work to meet local needs and are run by residents of the city. 

Pittsburg deputy city manager Jay Byers said one of the main reasons to make this change is to put the “money back into the community.”  Pittsburg currently purchases electricity from Westar Energy, which has a monopoly on electricity throughout the area. 

“Gas is already deregulated in this state; we can go out and play the market,” Byers said.  “Electricity is not.  Right now, we have to get our electricity from Westar, and they set rates through the KCC (Kansas Corporation Commission), and we don’t have much a say in that,” said Byers.   

Sarah Runyon, Pittsburg city information officer, said another big part of the exploration into public power is “Pittsburg’s goal” to further improve economic development.  As it is, the City has no negotiation power when it comes to inviting businesses to Pittsburg. 

“We could be more competitive, and we could create a more attractive environment for those businesses to set up shop here in Pittsburg,” said Runyon. “… Right now, with our current provider, Westar, we do not have that ability… And what we found when we entertained industries in Pittsburg, and (when) we talked to them about… Bringing those jobs here, is that our electricity rates in Kansas are not competitive (with those in other parts of) the region.” 

Byers said the model of what utilities will look like in the future is not going to look like Westar Energy’s business model. 

“We’re not going to be just delivering electrons, we’re going to be a different kind of utility than is currently out there, and all of them are going to have to change in some degree or another, because the nature of the entire market is changing so dramatically,” said Byers. “We are going to be more like brokers, where we help people decide where they get their energy from… We’re going to help them finance their solar panels, we’re going to help them design them, we’re going to be consultants for them.” 

Byers said Westar Energy made wrong decisions about their past investments and the customers are the ones that have to pay. 

“They did not have the foresight to see what was coming, and now the rest of the ratepayers are going to have to pay for those decisions… And we want out,” said Byers. “We want off that train; and we have the opportunity because our franchise agreement is up.” 

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