Economy, Energy, Natural Resources: Policy to People

Joe Wertz


Joe Wertz is multi-platform reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma. He has previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., lives in Oklahoma City, and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.

  • Email: stateimpact@kgou.org
  • Twitter: @joewertz

Gov. Mary Fallin Signs Distributed Electricity Generation Bill

Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday signed Senate Bill 1456, a measure that would allow regulated electric utilities to charge customers who generate electricity from rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines.

The bill allows utilities to create a new customer class, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports: Continue Reading

“Driller Uses 548,000 Gallons of Water for Norman Well”

The city’s utilities department received a number of calls from concerned residents after the paper reported that Texas-based drilling company Finley Resources had tapped a fire hydrant and was using drinking water to drill a well. Mayor Cindy Rosenthal has also asked city officials to look into the practice, the paper reports.

Brian Woodard, vice president of governmental affairs for the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said he couldn’t specifically discuss Finley’s operations. In general, however, the oil and gas industry needs water sources for the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process. “While it may seem odd to tap into a fire hydrant, it is a very efficient use from a logistical standpoint,” he said. “That is minimizing truck traffic from hauling water the city wouldn’t otherwise want.” “While it may seem odd to tap into a fire hydrant, it is a very efficient use from a logistical standpoint,” he said. “That is minimizing truck traffic from hauling water the city wouldn’t otherwise want.”

Read more at: journalrecord.com

Solar and Wind Surcharge Bill Passes Legislature, Awaits Governor’s Signature

Rooftop Solar

Briankusler / Flickr

A rooftop solar panel installation.

A legislative measure that would allow electricity utilities to charge higher rates to customers who generate electricity with small solar installations or wind turbines has passed an Oklahoma House committee and now awaits Gov. Mary Fallin’s signature.

Senate Bill 1456, authored by Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Edmond, drew opposition from environmental groups and solar advocates. Existing generators like Herb Hill from Crescent, Okla., are exempt from the bill. But, if signed, the measure could impact future Herb Hills, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

… the 85-year-old utility company retiree has 36 solar panels and a 100-foot-tall wind turbine. He also has a propane-powered emergency generator to back up the electricity from his local electric cooperative. Continue Reading

“Federal Plan To Save Prairie Chickens Ruffles State Feathers”

In case you missed it, a great piece on a five-state plan to preserve the Lesser Prairie Chicken and the political and cultural impact of the U.S. government’s decision to formally list the species as “threatened.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt isn’t buying it. “For the Fish and Wildlife Service to come out and say, ‘Yes, we’re going to classify the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, but we’re not going to change anything,’ seems to beg the question, then why did you take the step?” Pruitt says. He plans to sue to stop the listing but the real action is with the landowners. If they don’t agree to take payments to manage their properties in bird-friendly ways, the whole range-wide plan falls apart.

Read more at: www.npr.org

StateImpact and Partners’ Moore Tornado Coverage Honored With National Award

Lauren Gardner stands near a family members' house, which was destroyed by the May 20, 2013 tornado that ravaged Moore, Okla.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Lauren Gardner stands near a family members' house, which was destroyed by the May 20, 2013 tornado that ravaged Moore, Okla.

The Society of Professional Journalists on Wednesday honored reporters at StateImpact Oklahoma, KGOU and KOSU radio with its national Sigma Delta Chi award for collaborative breaking news coverage of the May 20, 2013 tornado. Continue Reading

“Oil Industry Rallies at Oklahoma State Capitol”

About 1,000 representatives from Oklahoma’s oil industry touted their economic impact — “2 million royalty owners, 31,000 companies and almost 400,000 workers” — and encouraged lawmakers to keep the lower, incentivized tax rates many energy companies have been paying.

“The state of Oklahoma cannot afford to raise taxes on this industry, because when you raise taxes on this industry, you take money out of the economic engine that’s funding schools, that’s funding road projects, that’s building medical facilities,” Cantrell said. Five lawmakers — Sens. Brian Bingman and Bryce Marlatt and Reps. Jeff Hickman, Leslie Osborn and John Trebilcock — expressed their support for the oil industry at Wednesday’s rally before the crowd went inside to lobby others.

Read more at: newsok.com

Conservative, Environmental and Green-Energy Groups Fighting Solar Surcharge Bill

An “unlikely” coalition of environmentalists, solar advocates and conservative groups are opposing a bill that would allow electric utilities to levy a surcharge on customers who install rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines.

“They aren’t exactly teaming up, ” but they’re all attacking Senate Bill 1456, authored by Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Edmond, has drawn the ire of an Arizona solar group called TUSK, which has fought utilities in that state and others over what they say are unnecessary barriers against rooftop solar. TUSK released a YouTube video on Tuesday deriding Turner’s support of the bill, which is backed by the major electric utilities in Oklahoma. (Turner’s office did not return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.) The group also is distributing a letter to Oklahoma lawmakers from Barry Goldwater Jr., a former congressman and son of conservative icon Barry Goldwater. The younger Goldwater is co-chairman of TUSK.

Continue Reading

OK Policy Poll: Voters Oppose Tax Incentives for Horizontal Drilling

Click here to read the full .pdf explaining the poll results.

Click here to read the full .pdf explaining the poll results.

A new poll shows 64 percent of Oklahoma voters oppose state tax incentives for horizontal drilling and support eliminating the incentive to pay for other government services.

Oklahoma levies a 7 percent tax on oil and gas production, but the horizontal drilling incentive lowers the rate to 1 percent for the first 48 months of production. The incentive expires in 2015, and some Oklahoma lawmakers are pushing to make the reduced rate permanent.

The poll, commissioned by the the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a left-leaning think-tank that has argued for eliminating the tax incentive and against cutting severance taxes on oil and gas production, showed 64 percent support eliminating the tax incentive to provide more funding for education, public safety, highways and “other state needs.”

Only 7 percent of those surveyed supported eliminating the incentives to help offset a cut to the top income tax rate, OK Policy’s survey data show.

Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed said they support the horizontal drilling tax incentive, and 21 percent said Oklahoma should keep the incentive. Continue Reading

“Wind Power Sets Records on Oklahoma, Texas Electric Grids”

New projects and infrastructure upgrades fueled record wind-energy production on the regional grids that serve Oklahoma and Texas.

Wind power accounted for 7,202 megawatts of electricity March 18 in the Southwest Power Pool, the regional transmission organization that covers Oklahoma and parts of eight other states. That surpassed the previous record of 6,448 megawatts set in October. The data was compiled by the American Wind Energy Association. The Southwest Power Pool has 7,765 megawatts of wind capacity, so last month’s record meant the system used almost 93 percent of its wind generating capacity March 18.

Read more at: newsok.com

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