--January 2009: $130 million (20% rate increase to customers). Funds to help recover the costs from the 2007 ice storm that crippled western Kansas, to build wind farms, and to build a natural gas plant in Emporia.
--March 2009: $32 million (2% rate increase). Funds to cover cost of building more transmission systems, which are used to transport electric power to customers.
--May 2009: $33.7 million (1.2% rate increase). Funds to cover the cost of environmental upgrades to power plants.
The total rate increases mean you're paying 23.2% more for power right now than at the same time a year ago.
While energy rates have a far greater impact, fuel charges are also increasing. This is the cost of actually producing the power customers use. If the cost of fuel goes up dramatically, Westar can recalculate their fuel charge rates and pass that along to customers.
In January 2009, customers paid a fuel charge of 0.74 cents per kilowatt hour of energy. Currently, customers pay one cent per kilowatt hour. That's a 35.1% increase in a year.
Y'Teva Robinson has seen the effects of the rate increase. Her electric bill went from less than $80 in November to more than $200 in December. She received her January bill on Wednesday, and the single mother says the $375 charge brought her to tears.
"It's a recession," says Robinson. "How can you continually go up on prices and expect people to live? You're taking food and other things out of my child's mouth. I don't really have a choice but to do that because of the prices."
Robinson's case is an extreme. Her apartment is all electric, and maintenance workers at her complex can't figure out why her energy consumption jumped so sharply. It's far more than they'd expect, even in winter. Still, increased rates aren't helping.
Westar Energy says it understands customer frustration and has seen an increase in calls from customers recently. Karla Olsen says the company encourages customers to call if they think something is significantly wrong with their bill. At the very least, Olsen says the customer can begin a payment program.
Olsen says Westar hopes the projects that caused the rate increases will save customers money in the long-term.
"They're beneficial, of course, to the customer in the long run," says Olsen, "but they do come with a price."
Wichitans needing to contact Westar can call 383-8600 or toll free at 1-800-383-1183 for those outside the Wichita area.