Kansas utility regulators are seeking to make public confidential information that could impact the proposed acquisition of Westar Energy by the owner of Kansas City Power & Light Co.
Staff of the Kansas Corporation Commission, which is examining Great Plains Energy’s proposed $12.2 billion acquisition of Topeka-based Westar, said this week that both utilities have made public statements about the benefits of the merger that don’t square with confidential information about the deal.
The commission staff filed a motion asking that all information marked confidential by the utilities in testimony and other documents be declassified.
The regulators said both utilities failed to specify how they would be harmed by public disclosure of the confidential information.
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“The potential impact of consolidating these two entities is astounding,” the commission’s filing said, “and the public has an interest in knowing exactly what the future might hold before commenting in support or opposition of the proposal. The results of this transaction, if completed, would be long felt, as it would be impossible to undo the transaction once competed.”
The filing comes weeks after the Kansas Corporation Commission staff recommended that its three-member commission reject Great Plains Energy’s bid to acquire Westar because of its concerns that the transaction will hurt the Kansas economy and result in a consolidated company that has too much debt.
Executives of both utilities have stridently opposed the commission’s comments and argued that the acquisition would result in $2 billion in savings over 10 years, which would benefit ratepayers in Kansas.
The combined company would serve 1.5 million customers in large swaths of eastern Kansas and most of the Kansas City area. Both companies have said customers won’t finance the acquisition through electric rates.
Chuck Caisley, a spokesman for Great Plains, said certain details related to the merger have been kept from the public’s view because it contains confidential business information.
“I would say as we go through the process we will sort through it and see what more of it may be made completely publicly available,” Caisley said.
The Kansas Corporation Commission filing said the confidential information relates to savings estimates, analyst reports, job cuts, plant closings, service performance metrics and financial forecasts. Agency staffers argued that public hearings before the commission, scheduled to start later this month and last for 10 days or more, would be more effective if commissioners didn’t have to continually close segments of it off from the public to discuss private information.
Other parties have filed to intervene in the proceedings, including the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board and the Board of Public Utilities in Wyandotte County, both of which expressed reservations about the proposed deal.
The commission also said that Great Plains and Westar have made public comments about the benefits of the merger that “cannot be easily reconciled” with information that’s been kept confidential.
One example, according to the commission, is a statement on KCP&L’s website that said the merger will create jobs, which is contradicted by confidential information (Linda Berry, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Corporation Commission, said regulatory staff and commissioners can view the confidential information).
Caisley acknowledged that there would be staff reductions if the acquisition goes through, but he would not commit to specific figures.
“Over the short term, there’s absolutely going to be reductions through attrition and retirement where there are redundancies and unneeded positions,” Caisley said. “That would be a portion of where the cost savings would come from. Over the long term, we would expect that having the companies located here and not somewhere else, we believe, will lead to more jobs in the region.”
Caisley predicted that neither utility would survive independently for another five years before an out-of-town company sought to buy them, potentially resulting in job losses to the region.