Why Small Solar and Wind Generators Are Worried About Surcharge Legislation

  • Joe Wertz

Solar panel and wind turbine technology is improving rapidly, and many small-scale customers are excited by the potential to generate electricity and sell it — outright, or for credit — back to the grid.

But proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1456, would levy a monthly surcharge on small generators, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports. Wind and solar advocates say it’s an attempt by electric utilities to undermine distributed power generation. The utilities say small electricity generators need to pay to use the electric grid itself.

Steve Wilke, with Delta Engineering and Design in Norman, said the bill creates a lot of uncertainty for his startup business, which designs and installs residential solar and wind systems. He won’t be able to offer customers an accurate estimate on savings when they could be subject to monthly service charges.

“I can’t say with any certainty what kind of cash flow they’re looking at when this charge could be $10 a month or $50 a month,” Wilke said. “I can see it diminish future development.”

The bill, authored by A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Edmond, passed the House utility and environmental regulation committee on March 31.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea said the bill wouldn’t apply to existing solar or small wind customers who have signed up for net metering, the program that allows them to build credits for generating excess power. The legislation also wouldn’t cover electricity generated from emergency backup generators.

O’Shea said customers with solar panels or small wind turbines are getting infrastructure benefits subsidized by other customers, many of whom can’t afford the large upfront costs of solar or small wind turbine installations.

“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” O’Shea said. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”