Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light Co., won approval from state regulators Thursday to merge as equals.

That clears the way for a combined company worth $14 billion serving more than 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.

“We feel (it’s) good for our shareholders, good for our communities, good for our customers, and good for our employees,” Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig said.

The Missouri Public Service Commission and the Kansas Corporation Commission both approved the long-pending merger proposal on Thursday. The companies had tried to combine last year, but saw their proposal rejected by Kansas regulators.

The merger is projected to save Kansas customers $183.5 million in its first five years.

Savings from the merger will allow Westar to cut the amount it is asking for in a rate case pending before the KCC. With the decrease, the average residential customer would see a hike in monthly bills of $2.80 per month, rather than the more than $5 previously asked for by Westar.

The new company will be called Evergy, a combination of ever and energy, and will be headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. The merger terms approved by regulators also require the company to keep at least 500 employees at a Kansas headquarters in Topeka for at least 5 years.

“For the most part we’ve really been trying to emphasize letting employees stay where their families are and where they are today,” Penzig said.

In rejecting a merger last year, the KCC argued the proposal would have put too much financial stress on the new company and would not benefit customers.

This time around, executives at the two companies tailored their proposals to calm the regulators’ worries.

The result is a larger regional electric utility company that members of the commission said will ultimately benefit Kansas consumers.

Jim Zakoura, who represented several large industrial customers during the proceedings, said he’s disappointed with the decision. While he wasn’t against the merger, he wanted a bigger commitment from the new company to reduce electric prices.

“The commission needs to address it and bring the utilities in and help get a plan to bring us back to competitive levels,” he said.

For now, customers will continue to get their service, and bills, from their current provider, KCP&L or Westar. Rebranding won’t occur until 2019.

Brian Grimmett, based at KMUW in Wichita, is a reporter focusing on the environment and energy for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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