Job losses, plant closings both possibilities in KCP&L-Westar merger

The Lawrence Energy Center in Lawrence is one facility being considered for closure if Great Plains Energy buys Westar Energy.
The Lawrence Energy Center in Lawrence is one facility being considered for closure if Great Plains Energy buys Westar Energy. File

Testimony disclosed this week in the proposed $12.2 billion Great Plains Energy acquisition of Westar Energy reveals that if the deal goes through, up to 638 full-time positions could be lost and smaller generation plants, including one in Lawrence, could shut down.

This information came available after the Kansas Corporation Commission’s three-member panel ordered that certain testimony, previously redacted, be made public.

Andrea Crane, president of a financial consulting firm retained by the Citizens Utility Ratepayer Board, testified that a Great Plains-Westar deal could result in the loss of 638 full-time equivalents, according to information she received from the utilities. That figure had been previously redacted, but last month the Kansas Corporation Commission asked that all information about the proposed merger be made public.

The merger would be a substantial corporate acquisition, one that would result in a utility serving 1.5 million people and most of Kansas City. The deal faces approval from KCC commissioners.

KCC staff recommended that the commission reject the deal, while Great Plains, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light, and Westar criticized the KCC’s conclusions. Hearings in Topeka are underway this week and are expected to last into next week.

Those job losses could be spread among Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City, Lawrence and other areas in the combined utility’s coverage area, which would be most of eastern Kansas and parts of Kansas City, Mo.

Chuck Caisley, spokesman for Great Plains, said about 380 jobs could be lost based on plant closures. Older generation plants such as the Lawrence Energy Center, Montrose Station and Sibley Station are being considered for closure. Caisley said those jobs might be cut whether the two utilities merge or not.

An additional 250 jobs could be lost due to corporate redundancies, Caisley said. All those potential cuts could happen over a three- to five-year period. Great Plains employs about 3,000 people, while Westar has 2,700.

Caisley said KCP&L has about 180 vacant positions through attrition or retirement since the two utilities announced the merger last year, many which might not be refilled if the deal goes through.

The utilities have predicted that a combined operation would save $2 billion over 10 years and retain local ownership in the regional utility.