They aren’t exactly teaming up, but an unlikely coalition of conservative groups, solar advocates and environmentalists are fighting a solar surcharge bill that could be up for a vote today in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 1456 would allow regulated utilities to charge customers extra if they install rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines and want to be able to send excess electricity back to the grid. The bill wouldn’t apply to customers who have already installed the distributed generation systems. (See previous stories in The Oklahoman here and here.)
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.
“Oklahoma is an oil, gas and coal state,” Goldwater Jr. said in the letter. “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.”
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club highlighted SB 1456 as one of their concerns at a Capitol news conference on Tuesday.
For their part, Oklahoma electric utilities have said residential users of distributed generation are being subsidized to an extent for extra grid infrastructure by other customers who can’t afford the large upfront costs of rooftop solar installation. SB 1456 would set up a process at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, to decide how much of a surcharge is warranted for future users of distributed generation.