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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thousands of Kansas City Power & Light customers say they’re faced with choices over feeding their families or paying for electricity.

An online petition against the company is now getting energized. It has 22,000 signatures, as of Monday afternoon, and it’s growing.

“You can’t go to a competitor. There is no competitor. You can’t give them the finger and tell them you’re going to take your business elsewhere. You’re just stuck with it,” KCP&L customer Aaron Dehncke said.

The petition is seeking an external audit of the company to determine if their billing practices are fair.

Dehncke said something’s got to give. He and his wife just moved into their Spring Hill home and have yet to get the first bill.

“We’re terrified. This house is bigger than our old one,” Dehncke said.

And they’re still paying for power at that old house.

They moved out right at the time KCP&L was changing its billing, aimed at improving the amount customers on budget billing paid per month.

So the Dehnckes got hit with a higher monthly amount plus the yearly adjustment for what their past payments hadn’t covered. The result was a whopping $900 bill.

“I never had an electricity bill that high. I thought that was a misunderstanding,” Dehncke said.

It’s been a huge hit to their budget for the family of six.

“It means we’ve got to start putting groceries on credit cards. This really stretches us,” he said.

Their story has been playing out hundreds of time over in complaints on social media and signatures on the petition.

“The thing that makes me mad the most is the fact I had to cash out my 401(k). Now I have nothing to push back on when I retire,” KCP&L customer Kimberly Newby said.

That cash-out is to help cover a $1,300 power bill she got as a result of her budget bill re-adjustment and soaring power bills from the hot summer.

She’s tried calling customer service but said high call volume hasn’t let her get through.

“I got an email today saying if I don’t pay, then it’s going to be cut off. But how can I pay or talk to somebody about what’s the least I can pay to not get cut off if you’re not there answering your phone,” Newby said.

KCP&L is aware of the customer petition. The utility issued the following statement in response:

“It’s important to note that as a regulated utility, KCP&L follows an established process determined by the state of Kansas to request changes to our prices to keep them aligned with costs. As part of this current rate hearing, the Kansas Corporation Commission will have access to all of the company’s financial information, and other data, per Kansas law.
“Following are a few points regarding high bills and the current rate case in Kansas:
“Regarding high bills:
  • Weather has played a huge role in high summer bills. Due to the early heatwave, customers energy usage was higher.
    • We had the hottest May in close to 40 years.
    • We had record-setting June heat
“Regarding the Kansas rate case
  • Since 2009, rate have increased between 9.3 and 10% in each rate case. In this rate case, we are asking for a 4.5% increase
    • 100% of the Federal Tax Credits are being paid in full to customers and are factored into the rate case.
    • As part of the merger agreement with Westar Energy, customers will receive a merger credit
    • As part of the merger agreement with Westar Energy, rates will not increase for another 5 years.”