New Oklahoma Law Charges Residents Who Install Solar Panels, Wind Turbines

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

Oklahoma residents who choose alternative energy by installing solar panels or wind turbines for their homes will be charged an additional fee, which has not yet been determined.

The bill, SB 1456, sailed through the House after no debate, despite being widely opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative Oklahoma utilities group TUSK. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed the bill into law last week after the state House passed the measure 83-5.

The law doesn’t affect those who already have alternative energy sources installed, but any new alternative energy customers will have to pay a fee that has yet to be determined.

The measure took Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, by surprise.

“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”

Homeowners who produce their own energy actually sell excess energy back to the grid, but Gary worries the new fee could be a deterrent. Sun City is trying to help customers install solar panels before the new fee goes into effect.

“We’re going to use it as a marketing tool,” Gary said. “People deserve to have an opportunity [to install their own solar panels] and not be charged.”

Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway blog wrote “the idea of charging people extra for doing something that reduces their dependence on the grid while at the same time increasing the amount of energy available seems rather nonsensical.”

“It is unfortunate that some utilities that enthusiastically support wind power for their own use are promoting a regressive policy that will make it harder for their customers to use wind power on their own,” Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower in Norman, said in a statement. “Oklahoma offers tax credits for large wind turbines which are built elsewhere, but wants to penalize small wind which we manufacture here in the state? That makes no sense to me.”

Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma told The Oklahoman that the surcharge recovers "some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid." 

“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea told the Oklahoman. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”

Sources: ThinkProgress, Outside The Beltway, The Oklahoman