Oklahoma has recently become yet another in a string of solar battlegrounds, because of a bill that solar advocates feared could impose extra charges on utility customers who install rooftop solar panels.
SB 1456, which recently passed in both the Oklahoma House and Senate, requires the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) to conduct an evaulation of distributed solar and wind generation. It also allows the OCC to establish a separate customer class and monthly surcharge for distributed generation such as rooftop solar or small wind turbines. But it's important to note that, as is the case with similar bills in other states, it does not mandate such a charge.
While a new surcharge would not affect customers who already have solar systems installed, we’ve seen in Arizona how even small extra charges can have a negative effect on a solar market. So it's no surprise that solar advocates would worry about a charge being imposed.
What's to prevent this from happening? An executive order from the Oklahoma governor, plus advocacy and public support for solar.
Yesterday, we heard that Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin did in fact sign Senate Bill 1456 into law. However, the new law does not necessarily mean a new charge for solar customers.
The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) thinks there's cause for optimism. TASC put out a statement noting that at the same time as Governor Fallin signed the bill, she also signed an Executive Order to promote the growth of distributed solar and wind in Oklahoma.
The Order explicitly states that SB 1456 “does not mandate tariffs or other increases for distributed generation customers.” Instead, the Order states, “prior to implementation of any fixed charges, this Bill allows the Commission to consider the use of all available alternatives, including other rate reforms such as increased use of time-of-use rates, minimum bills and demand charges.”
The Executive Order also requires the Corporation Commission to conduct a “transparent evaluation of distributed generation” that “mandates inclusion of all stakeholders, including representatives of the solar and distributed wind industries, and utilities.”
More broadly, the Order states that “all executive entities shall support all forms of energy, including both traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, as outlined and mandated by the Oklahoma First Energy Plan. This plan promotes wind and solar power as important forms of clean energy which have a significant place in Oklahoma power generation.”
Although we would prefer plans that don’t promote fossil fuels, we’re glad to see the focus on wind and solar in the Order.
According to TASC, the leadership of Governor Fallin and Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague demonstrates a commitment to distributed generation and energy choice for Oklahomans.
And energy choice is indeed a big part of what's behind the new twist for Oklahoma solar.
Slate pointed out that the Executive Order undercuts the bill's anti-solar aims and deals "an unexpected defeat to major utilities and their deep-pocketed backers -- a group that includes the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful national membership group for conservative state lawmakers."
But not all conservatives are alike. It's a mistake to think that red states won't be pro-solar, as we've seen a number of times already in the net metering battles across the country. Conservatives tend to favor individual choice, and that includes energy choice. So it should be no surprise that conservative groups like TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed) helped defeat the anti-solar forces in Oklahoma.
The new Executive Order is no guarantee that Oklahoma solar will be okay. But with public support for solar high across the country and people of all political persuasions advocating for it, we have reason to hope for more solar in Oklahoma's future.