The Governor of Oklahoma has just signed a bill making it possible for utilities to apply to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission so that rooftop solar owners can be billed at a higher base rate than regular customers. The justification is familiar, many utilities feel that solar customers should pay something extra for the privilege of using the grid. The difference, in Oklahoma, is that Oklahoma Gas & Electric does not know how much extra it wants. But they do believe they should get something.
“Our existing rates don’t recognize new technology like solar and distributed generation,” OG&E spokesperson Kathleen O’Shea said. “They’re kind of based on old, historic models.”
She does not believe that many rooftop solar customers want to sever their connection to the grid and OG&E wants to keep them as customers.
“We just want to make sure they’re paying their fair amount of that maintenance cost.”
Senator Mike Turner (R – Edmond) brought forward bill 1456 on their behalf.
He was opposed by solar advocates, the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Arizona solar group TUSK.
“Oklahoma is an oil, gas and coal state,” Tusk’s Chairman Barry Goldwater Jr. wrote to the people people of Oklahoma. “That isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Allowing private enterprise and the rooftop solar industry to thrive will give energy customers in Oklahoma a choice as to how they get their electricity. If you slap heavy taxes on it, you are allowing the heavy hand of government to stop competition in favor of long-held monopolies.”
On April 14, the senate passed SB 1456 by an 83 to 5 vote, with 13 “other” votes.
Governor Mary Fallin signed the Executive Order that made it law yesterday. When she did this, Governor Fallin took the unusual step of directing how it is to be applied.
Fallin wrote that “all executive entities shall support all forms of energy, including both traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, as outlined and mandated by the Oklahoma First Energy Plan. This plan promotes wind and solar power as important forms of clean energy which have a significant place in Oklahoma power generation.”
SB 1456 “does not mandate tariffs or other increases for distributed generation customers” and “prior to implementation of any fixed charges, this Bill allows the Commission to consider the use of all available alternatives, including other rate reforms such as increased use of time-of-use rates, minimum bills and demand charges.”
It was that Executive Order that drew praise from The Alliance for Solar Choice.
Oklahoma Gas & Electric has 1.3 million customers, who pay some of the lowest rates in the US: 8.33 cents per kilowatt hour. 500 of these have solar panels.
Did the utilities “win” in Oklahoma?
This was probably the only state in which utilities could not apply to have solar owners billed differently. That has changed, so now they are on par with the rest of America. It remains to be seen what further changes, if any, this will lead to.
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