Oklahoma Legislators, Bowing to Big Business, Raise Rates for Small Producers of Solar and Wind Power
Lawmakers in Oklahoma have decided to help utility companies by opening the way for them to charge higher rates to homeowners and small business owners who generate electricity through wind and solar power.
Senate Bill 1456 (pdf), which cleared the legislature and now awaits a decision from Republican Governor Mary Fallin, permits utilities to approach the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to charge a higher base rate to customers who generate solar and wind energy and sell their excess power back into the grid.
The legislation—which passed in spite of opposition from solar advocates and environmental groups—represents a reversal in state law that’s been on the books since 1977, when legislators prohibited utilities from charging extra to solar users.
Utility companies fear the growth of mom-and-pop solar operations will eventually eat into their profits, much like the advent of wireless communications upended the business model of telephone companies, according to industry-sponsored research (pdf) by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).
“When customers have the opportunity to reduce their use of a product or find another provider of such service, utility earnings growth is threatened,” said the EEI report. “As this threat to growth becomes more evident, investors will become less attracted to investments in the utility sector.”
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., which supports the legislation, is not anti-solar and has in fact invested in wind generation, claims company spokesperson Kathleen, O’Shea. She believes that people who leave the mainstream to use solar or wind will not sever their ties with the electric grid. “If there’s something wrong with their panel or it’s really cloudy, they need our electricity, and it’s going to be there for them,” O’Shea told The Oklahoman. “We just want to make sure they’re paying their fair amount of that maintenance cost. Our existing rates don’t recognize new technology like solar and distributed generation.”
This is not the first time Oklahoma’s conservative politicians have demonstrated themselves to be opponents of alternative energy.
GOP U.S. Senator James Inhofe objected two years ago to the Department of Defense’s alternative energy programs, which included purchasing biofuels, a plant-based power supply. He characterized the programs as President Barack Obama’s “all-out attack on traditional American energy development.”
While opposing subsidies for biofuels, Inhofe supported various tax breaks worth $2 billion annually for the oil industry. Since 1989, he has received more than $1 million in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
Oklahoma Electric Utilities Want Higher Rate for Solar, Wind Energy Producers (by Paul Monies, The Oklahoman)
Congress Blocks Use of Alternative Fuels for the Military (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
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