Two Oklahoma residents unhappy with a new state law on rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines are getting ready to circulate a petition aimed at repealing the law through a state question on November’s ballot.
Stillwater resident Jonathan Pollnow and Oklahoma City resident Bob Waldrop want voters to reject Senate Bill 1456, signed into law in April by Gov. Mary Fallin. The law allows regulated electric utilities to set up a new customer class with higher base rates for users of rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines.
If Pollnow and Waldrop can gather at least 51,739 signatures of registered voters, State Question 772 will appear on the November ballot. Backers of a referendum petition must get at least 5 percent of the total number of votes for governor in the last election cycle.
Pollnow said he read about SB 1456 in the newspaper as it made its way through the Legislature. He began discussing the bill with others who thought it was unfair.
“Everybody I talked to, regardless of their political orientation, had a distaste for the law,” said Pollnow, who recently graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in plant and soil sciences. “I decided since nobody else was doing anything about it, I figured I’d give it a shot. I may be wrong in my opinion, but I still think it should be a decision that should be put to the voters.”
Pollnow said he suspects there may have been some naivete among legislators, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill. SB 1456 passed 41-0 in the Senate and 83-5 in the House.
“It was either that, or just the way it was sold,” Pollnow said. “Basically, they’re legislating their way out of a business problem. If they can’t adapt, they need to go away.”
Oklahoma’s two largest electric utilities supported SB 1456, which sets up a process at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to establish a new customer class and higher base charge for distributed generation users. The law doesn’t apply to emergency backup generators or customers who install solar panels or small wind turbines before Nov. 1, when it goes into effect.
Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, who authored the bill, said the initiative petition to roll back the law was “completely unnecessary.”
Randy Swanson, director of public affairs with Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., said the utility saw the bill as a fairness issue. He said distributed generation users still use the grid for power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing and should pay for connection charges.
“This was not a surcharge bill, it was a subsidy bill,” Swanson said. “These fixed costs would get passed on to the people who can least afford to add solar panels.”
Stan Whiteford, spokesman with Tulsa-based Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, said customers will get a chance to weigh in at the Corporation Commission.
“Legislators voted overwhelmingly to end subsidies for distributed generation customers,” Whiteford said. “We would hate to see it rolled back.”
Together, OG&E and PSO have fewer than 500 distributed generation customers in Oklahoma. But those numbers are expected to rise as the price of solar panels and installation falls.
Pollnow said supporters of the petition plan to get signers at events such as gun shows and home and garden shows.
“I don’t foresee any real problems in collecting signatures,” Pollnow said. “We’re going to shoot for 80 (thousand) or 90 (thousand) just to be safe.
I think most of those people are going to be registered voters.”