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Oklahoma utility rules keep some solar users in the dark

As the cost of residential solar panels comes down, some utility customers who generate more power than they use find Oklahoma regulations are stricter than those in surrounding states.
by Paul Monies Published: April 12, 2013

Still, the numbers of customers signed up for net metering is small. OG&E has about 100 customers signed up for net metering, while Tulsa-based Public Service Co. of Oklahoma has 69, utility spokesmen said. Combined, OG&E and PSO have more than 1.2 million customers in the state.

Chris Meyers, general manager of the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, said most of the state's co-ops fall outside of Corporation Commission jurisdiction. But they tend to have similar rules for net metering.

OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said the utility prefers Oklahoma's method for dealing with excess net metering credits. Arkansas law requires credits roll over for up to one year.

“We believe the methodology in Oklahoma is more appropriate,” Alford said. “It keeps the credits closer to the actual consumption.”

Alford said carrying credits longer than a month can create subsidy issues for other customers. He compared it to buying a beach ball in January when prices are low, then returning it to the store in summer when prices are higher and expecting a full-price refund.

Clark, who has more panels than the typical solar power user, said customers like himself are helping utilities during peak hours by not putting extra stress on the grid. He just wants to keep the credit for the excess power he generates.

“This doesn't seem like it's that complicated,” Clark said. “With the sun at full strength, these solar panels are running like they're on fire. I'm giving them electricity during the peak times.”

In a January report, the trade group Edison Electrical Institute included generation from residential wind or solar power as one of the potential “game changers” to the electric utility industry.

The institute said such distributed generation takes away about 1 percent of the demand for electricity nationwide, but that share is expected to grow as the costs come down.

“While tariff restructuring can be used to mitigate lost revenues, the longer-term threat of fully exiting from the grid (or customers solely using the electric grid for backup purposes) raises the potential for irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects,” the report said. “This suggests that an old-line industry with 30-year cost recovery of investment is vulnerable to cost-recovery threats from disruptive forces.”

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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