Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin’ lazy circles in the sky.
We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say
We’re only sayin’
You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
(from “Oklahoma” by Rodgers & Hammerstein)
The news out of Oklahoma is dismal. Last Monday, the Oklahoma legislature passed S.B. 1456, creating a fee for utility customers who install solar panels or wind turbines and sell their excess energy back to the utility companies. In effect, it sets up a fee for customers implementing solar panels or wind turbines at their residence. Although the title of the bill does not specifically mention solar or wind power, it does mentions “customers utilizing certain distributed generation.” In the ClimateProgress article, about this bill, the owner of Sun City Oklahoma stated the bill was an amendment “attached to some other bill.” and “It just appeared out of nowhere.” A reading of the bill seems to show this does not appear to be the case. Rather, there were active opponents of the legislation as well as proponents such as Oklahoma’s major utilities. So someone knew what was happening. This concerns me. If “energy advocates, environmental groups” and others were opposing the bill, why didn’t they marshal their constituency? How on Earth did an owner of a solar power company not seem to be aware of a bill that had its first reading back on February 3rd, especially since this bill is positioned to have a disrupting affect on his business? I’ve mentioned before, I wonder how fragile the solar energy industry is, at least the residential side of it. Those of us who believe that climate change is happening and mankind is a primary contributor to it, have to be made aware of governmental efforts to put up roadblocks to the adoption of distributed, renewable energy generation. It is the duty of the renewable energy advocacy groups to spread the word loudly and repeatedly when activity of this kind rears its head. Otherwise, why do they exists?
The language of the bill uses the old tactic of pitting citizens against one another by stating, “No retail electric supplier shall allow customers with distributed generation installed after the effective date of this act to be subsidized by customers in the same class of service who do not have distributed generation.” This is simply a strategy of divide and conquer. We are at war. The utility companies know this but oddly enough, environmental groups act as if we are not.
I find it odd that a state government that subsidizes distributed, renewable energy generation, at the same time, attaches fees to it. As in earlier discussions on this blog about the ridiculous nature of taxing different types of vehicular fuel differently, to raise funds for road maintenance, this seems ludicrous!
At a time when major oil companies are receiving billions of dollars in subsidies, while contributing to the pollution of our environment and global climate change, we absolutely should be helping the fledgling solar industry to get off the ground. Free market economics alone won’t work here. Recently, solar panel manufacturing costs have started to drop and panel efficiency has been increasing. If the free market had been the only way this industry could compete, who would have invested years and tons of money to reach this point? Heck, we wouldn’t have ever gotten to this point where solar panels are becoming an affordable alternative for residential customers!
Many urban areas in the South and Southwest U.S. have experienced rolling brownouts in the Summer, as heat waves have everyone running air conditioners almost constantly. A sensible utility company should see the distributed generation of energy as an additional source of power that does not require the construction of a new power plant (or maintenance of said plant). Are there costs involved? Absolutely. The transmission of electricity in Texas is, by law, a separate function from generation of said energy or retail sales of same. Someone has to pay to erect power lines, maintain them and react to restore power after natural calamities. The transmission fees are for this purpose. Retail electric customers here pay a transmission fee, per kilowatt hour transmitted, as part of their electric bill. If a customer sells excess energy back to the grid, someone has to pay for the transmission of that electricity back to the grid. In my opinion, this is a cost that should be paid by the electric utilities, as they are the customer in that transaction. There should not be a fee charged to the residential customer for becoming a mini electric utility.
Corporations, as I’ve said before, are like living creatures. In this case, the utilities seem to feel threatened by distributed energy generation. Should we force them to purchase excess energy generated by residential energy generation? That is something that should be discussed, openly. In my opinion, for now at least, the answer is yes, because our national (if not global) security is involved. Should we make them pay retail prices? Of course not. If utility companies perceived distributed renewable energy as a resource they could tap, at a reasonable cost when there is demand to sell it, perhaps they’d be more on-board with it. However, the end game is not to their liking. Eventually, it is possible, perhaps even probable, that enough residential power generation will become available that their contribution of energy to the grid will start decreasing. That’s bad for them but good for us (and the environment). We should not be surprised by their resistance to its adoption and we should remain vigilant, watching for efforts to curb adoption of home-generated energy. This is war. The utility companies, who have served us well for over a century, know this and are marshaling their forces to exist as long as possible. This is the responsible thing for them to do for their shareholders. If we are dedicated to building a truly better future for ourselves, we have to accept that they will not continue indefinitely in their current form (or magnitude).
We cannot fall asleep at the wheel. We must remain vigilant and not be caught off-guard when these predictable moves are made. The environmental groups we support with donations have to earn that support by getting the word out about governmental moves like this, when they are first proposed, so we have time to react. They also have to stop preaching to the choir and get a real public debate on the issues started. We have busy lives and cannot, each of us, read every bill that is proposed. We can however, react to stop efforts contrary to our welfare, if warned in advance.
One last thing: If your utility company built renewable energy generation facilities instead of those that pollute, would you still want to have your own solar panels or wind turbines? I’d like to know how you feel about that.