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KC Development Council throws weight behind Great Plains/Westar merger

Great Plains Energy and Westar Energy announced plans to join forces earlier this year. Last month, they got approval for that reportedly $12-billion-dollar joining from shareholders with an eye on completing the deal in 2017.  

We sat down with Tim Cowden, president and CEO, Kansas City Area Development Council, to talk about their biz-oriented support for the merger. 

Why throw support behind the potential Great Plains/Westar merger?

Cowden: Strong, locally-owned utilities are a cornerstone of healthy regional economies. The combination of KCP&L and Westar Energy will ensure good jobs stay here and will allow us to maintain our competitive electric rates, one of our region’s distinct advantages and one of the most important considerations for site selection consultants and companies looking to relocate to our area.

[Editor's note: Great Plains Energy is the parent company of utility Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L).]

What positives do you see the merger bringing you?

Cowden: This will ensure the ongoing competitiveness of electricity prices, a utility company with a progressive energy stance and a willingness to work to attract businesses. It is a distinct competitive advantage for the KC region.

Is there nothing about the merger that concerns you?

Cowden: We have worked with the executive teams of both companies for several years.  We have witnessed their performance and have great confidence in their ability to deliver at the highest level. 

What's Westar's current level of community involvement? Do you see that increasing?

Cowden: Westar is involved in the community, but not to the level of KCP&L.  Bringing together the senior leadership of KCP&L and Westar Energy ensures that they will remain engaged in Kansas and Missouri. Local leadership living, working and contributing in our community ensures our economic development efforts will continue to have their full attention. Their involvement and support of our efforts is critical to the future economic health of our region.

How does renewable energy fit into your support for the merger?

Cowden: From what we understand, among investor-owned utilities in the United States, the combined company will have one of the largest portfolios of wind generation in the country. KCP&L and Westar each have made significant commitments to harvesting the general wind Kansas provides. KCP&L was the first utility in the country to own and operate a commercial-scale wind farm in the state of Kansas at its 148.5 megawatt Spearville Wind Generation Facility. Westar Energy’s multiple wind farms will provide 32% of the utility’s retail electricity by the end of 2016. A robust portfolio of renewable energy is increasingly important to companies when they are looking to locate facilities.

Was this merger support a "no brainer" among your Council, or was there a lot of debate on the subject?

Cowden: There was full agreement that a merger of these two companies makes so much sense due to their adjacent service territories, shared assets and knowledge of each other.  Local control enhances our region's ability to compete and win new jobs and investment. 


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