By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Senate Bill 1456, approved by the House this week, and headed for expected signature by Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday, will place a surcharge on small wind and solar producers who contribute to distributed generation.
This means that people who go to the time, trouble and expense to equip their homes with solar panels or to set up their own wind energy to power their farm will have to pay a monthly surcharge for the privilege of feeding their excess power back to the grid.
This plan flies in the face of what utilities should be doing, which is welcoming the supplemental, green power than can help stabilize the grid at times of peak demand.
Instead, the big utilities that proposed this bill and got it passed by the compliant Oklahoma legislature, want to penalize these small power providers with a fee that could be high or low — it will be set at a later time by state energy regulators.
Ostensibly this fee will pay for the utilities to connect the small producers to the grid.
But on its face, it’s clear that in the Sooner state, big utilities would just as soon have all the power under their control, minus any participation by the little guys.
"It's really meant to discourage people from producing some of their own energy. This is what monopolists do," said Bryan Miller, president of the Alliance for Solar Choice. Miller explained that two giant electricity companies — Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Gas & Electric — were the main instigators of the surcharge.
"This is a tax on solar homeowners and on family farms and we call on Governor Fallin to veto this tax," said Miller, whose group has been fighting similar incursions against small energy producers in other states.
It does seem like the Oklahoma bill strips people of their choices, by making it a little less financially attractive to switch to wind or solar power. Oklahoma does have net metering, which allows small solar and wind owners to sell excess power back to the grid; but the new surcharge will cut into that incentive.
Meanwhile, the wind whipping down the plains in Oklahoma, which ranks as the 9th state in the US in terms of natural wind capacity, is a growing business, at the commercial level. Big Wind won’t be subject to the surcharge.
“It’s disappointing to see Senate Bill 1456 moving forward in Oklahoma. This legislation does nothing but jeopardize renewable energy growth in the state. Distributed forms of energy generation like small and community wind and solar power help to keep the lights on and Oklahomans at work. The state legislature should be examining legislation that will support this growing industry, and utilities should be encouraging distributed generation instead of trying to penalize it,” said Distributed Wind Energy Association Executive Director Jennifer Jenkins.
Turner said he was especially concerned about the independent farmers who’re using wind to provide their own power, a move that can save them money over the long haul.
DWEA’s president, Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower in Norman, OK, expressed a similar worry.
“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,” Bergey said.
"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.”
Bergey also said that the measure could cost more to put into place than it will save.
“The truly ironic thing is that net metering, a standard policy in 42 states, saves utility administration costs and, because so little small wind and solar capacity is installed in Oklahoma, implementing SB 1456 through the Corporation Commission would cost ratepayers and taxpayers $5 for every $1 that it could theoretically save the utility.”
Fallin has until Monday to sign the bill. Her office could not be reached.
Fallin, who this week celebrated a new law forbidding cities to set their own minimum wage, was getting some negative comments on the solar power bill from a few constituents on her Facebook page.
“…Here we have government at all levels encouraging clean energy, and Oklahoma shows its usual BACKWARDNESS by punishing those who try to use renewable energy sources. YOU are partly to blame for this, and we will not forget. We will NOT forget,” said Carol Henry Madding.
Barbara J. Cobuzzi asked: “Why are you taxing people who are Tur[n]ing to clean energy? You are allowing your masters [to] control you so that they can increase their fortune in dirty energy and continue polluting the earth and destroying our clean water because a worth of $100 billion is not enough…”
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