Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

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.

Hill’s neither a “doomsday prepper” who’s ready to live off the grid, nor a hardcore environmentalist enamored with green energy. He just wants cheap, available electricity to help run his deep freezers and his spa.

Oklahoma’s major electric utilities, Oklahoma Gas and Electric and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, backed the bill. The utility industry argues the surcharge is needed because customers who generate electricity are using an existing electric infrastructure without paying for it, Monies reports:

SB 1456 reversed a 1977 law that forbade utilities to charge extra to solar users. The new bill allows regulated utilities to apply to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for a new class of customers who use distributed generation. The customers would be charged a higher base rate to make up for the infrastructure costs for sending excess electricity back to the grid.

Nationally, electric utilities see distributive power generation — particularly from rooftop solar — as a threat to their business model. A 2013 report by the Edison Electric Institute, the industry’s trade group, warned of “a day when battery storage technology or micro turbines could allow customers to be electric grid independent.”

Fights between utilities and solar users over surcharges have popped up in other states, too, including Arizona, California, Hawaii and South Carolina, Monies reports.

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  • Stephen Willis

    A Kingston resident emailed me saying that OG&E exports surplus electricity to states surrounding Oklahoma. She asked why OG&E couldn’t provide the electricity to replace the need for hydro-electic power from Denison Dam, and save Lake Texoma’s water.

    She asked, “Why are OG&E and Governor Fallin opposing the implementation of rooftop solar which could also replace the need for Denison Dam hydropower during peak hours of demand?” You would think such avid “free market” supporters wouldn’t be supporting the equivalent of a tax on clean energy development.

    She was sent this explanation from State Senator Josh Brecheen who got it directly from OG&E and forwarded it to his constituent.

    Dear (Kingston Resident)

    Please see below the response from OG&E to your questions and concerns regarding OG&E and Economics.

    Anita Huntley
    Executive Assistant
    Senator Josh Brecheen

    issue Ms. (Kingston resident) is raising is called Net Energy Metering. At issue is
    at what price will the customer be paid for “excess” generation (retail
    or wholesale). It is a very complicated matter, but one which we are
    beginning to address. For example, our “fixed costs” are spread over
    the annual amounts of electricity that we sell. To the extent a
    customer generates their own power (and even provides excess power to
    the grid), the bills of the remaining customers would be expected to
    increase, in order to recover those fixed costs (including ad valorem
    taxes, depreciation, etc.) over less electricity sales.

    typically, the cost of installation of such equipment is expensive, and
    people on fixed incomes don’t have the resources
    to make the referenced investments. The individuals who can afford the
    equipment (i.e. the wealthy) benefit/profit at the expense of the rest
    of us, especially those on fixed incomes.

    line, our industry is beginning to address this complicated issue in
    Oklahoma. We agree with Sen. Brecheen’s position of not mandating any
    regulation, especially since we are regulated by the Oklahoma
    Corporation Commission.

    Anita: If I can be of any further assistance, on this or any other matter, please let me know.

    All the Best,

    Rae Rice (OG&E representative)


  • Dan

    The electrical companies are in fear of people being totally independent of the need of utilities companies. They hate Americans being free. They can only slow down this change but will not be able to stop it. They will lose this battle in the end especially when people are totally off the grid. Does this new surcharge apply to homes that do not sell their excess electrical put back to the grid?

  • Angry Mom of 5

    Well, if the electric companies weren’t so proud of their power maybe more of us could afford their services. Our home is 2,000sf, family of 7, we utilize “Smart Hours” to the fullest….yet our bill is still nearly $400 per month during August!

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