Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R).
On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.
“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”
Because the surcharge amount has not been determined, Gary is cautious about predicting the impact it will have on her business. She has already received multiple calls from people asking questions about the bill and wanting to have solar systems installed before the new fee takes effect. “We’re going to use it as a marketing tool,” Gary said. “People deserve to have an opportunity [to install their own solar panels] and not be charged.”
“It is unfortunate that some utilities that enthusiastically support wind power for their own use are promoting a regressive policy that will make it harder for their customers to use wind power on their own,” said Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower in Norman, Oklahoma, in a statement. “Oklahoma offers tax credits for large wind turbines which are built elsewhere, but wants to penalize small wind which we manufacture here in the state? That makes no sense to me.”
The bill was staunchly opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative group TUSK, but had the support of Oklahoma’s major utilities. “Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid,” the Oklahoman reported.
“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea told the Oklahoman. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”
But distributed energy sources also provide a clear value to utility companies. Solar generates during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels actually feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.
As the use of solar power skyrockets across the U.S., fights have sprung up in several states over how much customers should be compensated for excess power produced by their solar panels and sold back to the grid — a policy known as net metering. Net metering laws have come under fire from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group backed by fossil fuel corporations, utility companies, and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have net metering policies in place and ALEC has set its sights on repealing them, referring to homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system.” ALEC presented Gov. Fallin the Thomas Jefferson Freedom award last year for her “record of advancing the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty as a nationally recognized leader.”
Oklahoma “could be the first complete defeat for solar advocates in their fight against utility efforts to recover costs lost to DG [distributed generation] use,” writes Utility Dive. Net metering survived attacks in Colorado and Kansas and Vermont recently increased its policy in a bipartisan effort. Last year, Arizona added what amounts to a $5 per month surcharge for solar customers, a move that was widely seen as a compromise, particularly after ALEC and other Koch-backed groups got involved.
While any extra charge placed on potential customers is a concern, Gary hopes that like Arizona, Oklahoma’s fee is modest enough to protect her business from serious damage.
Matt Kasper, energy research assistant at the Center for American Progress, contributed to this piece. Source: Thinkprogress.org
So What Does This Mean In The Bigger Scope Of Things?
Following is the response to an email I sent to Oklahoma House: Mike Turner:
"As someone who has manufactured solar cells from the ground up, I know reasonably well the pitfalls with it. I am staunchly opposed to having people subsidize others in any technology. I encourage you to take time and energy to read the bill as well as the Goldwater Institute's numerous articles that call for an end to solar subsidies. True conservative activism means studying a topic and realizing who demands more of other people’s money."
The appeal through the years has been that you could buy a solar or wind power system, and not pay any more for electricity. When you have to pay a tax to be tied to the grid, fight the power company to keep a meter in there that will spin backwards when you produce, and get paid from nothing to a pittence when you overproduce, the system options out there are hardly fair to the consumer, let alone are they putting the buyer in any sort of advantageous position. While other countries continue to build infrastructure that gives them energy freedom, this is one of those kinds of decisions that is bought by the power companies and encourages continued dependance on subterranean fuels. Fuel is a good thing that produces lots of power, but a transition is in the works that will conserve more of it. When 300 mpg vehicles are coming of age, humankind will be able to reduce the per person consumption as more great inventions begin to take advantage of such technology and more people around the world continue to be added to the fuel-user list.
The benefits of going solar have been reduced. Being tied to a battery bank costs a lot... Probably more than the fees to be tied to the grid over time. That said, it would be beneficial to establish small communities of 2-50 homes and go in with ones neighbors in an effort to produce your own power. Going off the grid does not have to be a solo task. If you can create a small system with wind / solar / hydro power, a whole group of people can go off the grid offering neighborhood power systems. Any way you do it, you will find that someone has to manage it, and it will feel like an electric bill. If that bill is lower because of self production, then great things are coming, and the costs involved will only go down.
New construction is looking forward to ways to save costs for their buyers. Homes that handle power on site will be far more valuable than those that do not. If self-produced power costs the same to install as a grid-tie system, we will see it prevail in the marketplace. Chinese production of products is cheaper than the labor to maintain power pole and power line systems in most countries.
We should be creative enough to design and build plug and play systems that require no electrical expertise to install. If you remember when desktop pc's were developed, at first many people had a hard time trying to figure out how to plug in the mouse and keyboard, modem cord and power cord. For that reason, they color coded the cables and the back of the computer, so anyone could figure out how to plug it in.
With the internet, videos and instructions are available at a glance, and safety procedures can be addressed with better understanding than a building inspector can manage to convey to a do-it-yourselfer. A product can be developed with packaging and web links that make it possible for installations to occur without oversight. Yes electricity is dangerous. Plugging in a hair dryer is not dangerous because the cord is made safe and the plug is self explanatory. Plug and play solar and wind power can change the future. If you have tried the system available at Harbor freight, they have made leaps and bounds in that direction. A couple more years, and I see a horizon that will benefit all of us.
Like AT&T had to jump ship and move from long distance to cell phones, power companies will have to adapt to the coming trends. Eventually the wave will overcome. Maintaining stability for all is important. We don't want brown outs and black outs for the masses because a few decided to switch. Transition is important, and every city should have sustainable goals that prepare for the day it costs less to provide ones own power than to hook up to the grid. Those who push back will be run over. Make way for a tidal wave!