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Solar advocates worry about Oklahoma legislation for surcharge

Customers who install solar panels or erect small wind turbines that generate electricity could be subject to an infrastructure surcharge from Oklahoma utilities under a bill pending at the Legislature.
by Paul Monies Published: March 29, 2014

Oklahoma electricity customers with solar panels or small wind turbines could face a new monthly surcharge from their utility under a bill to be considered Monday by a House committee.

The measure, Senate Bill 1456, directs utilities to recover the costs from customers for providing the electrical infrastructure to homes or businesses with solar panels or small wind turbines. The costs would be determined through a rate tariff filed with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Solar energy advocates said the bill is an attempt by electric utilities to curtail the rise of distributed generation that threatens their business model.

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.”

Wilke said the bill would punish customers with solar panels who are reducing their electricity demand from a utility, especially during hot days when usage spikes. That reduction in demand should be treated the same way as installing an energy-efficient furnace or windows, he said.

With the cost of solar panels falling, Wilke said a residential electricity customer with a monthly bill of $125 could see payback in 10 to 12 years from the installation of rooftop solar panels.

Such a system would cost $25,000 to $30,000 but would qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit, he said.

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.

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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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