Oklahoma imposes grid fee on residential PV installations

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New solar customers in the U.S. state of Oklahoma will have to pay a monthly grid connection fee after state legislators passed the S.B. 1456 bill through the House – a decision that caught many local organizations and businesses by complete surprise.

"We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill," Sun City Oklahoma owner, Ctaci Gary, told local media. "It just appeared out of nowhere."

The bill will apply to homeowners who install residential PV or small wind turbines on their property. Residents with solar panels already installed will not be affected by the measure, which has been championed by state utilities and conservative groups. Local newspaper the Oklahoman reported: "Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Services Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid."

The surcharge amount is yet to be determined, but the House has confirmed that customers who sell excess clean energy back to the grid will have to pay a monthly fee.

Solar strife

Solar power in the U.S. has found itself embroiled in a number of battles from coast-to-coast in recent months. Currently, 43 states have net metering policies in place, but the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a group backed by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, powerful utility companies and a raft of fossil fuel corporations – has begun an aggressive campaign to have most net metering rules repealed.

From Kansas via Arizona and North Carolina, conservative heavyweights of the U.S. landscape have backed efforts to roll back solar-supportive state policies, with battle lines now being drawn in Ohio, South Carolina and Washington. Their argument is that without net metering, solar power would be prohibitively expensive, and thus the current status quo undermines the power industry, giving solar an unfair advantage.

"If you are using the grid and benefiting from the grid, you should pay for it," said the executive VP of Edison Electric Institute, David Owens. "If you don’t, other customers have to absorb those costs." For its part, ALEC has championed efforts to overturn a Kansas mandate that requires 20% of the state’s power comes from renewable sources. "State governments are starting to wake up," said Christine Harbin Hanson, a spokesperson for Americans for Prosperity – the Koch brothers-backed advocacy group. "These green energy mandates are bad policy."

Facing down the powerfully backed enemy, solar advocates and environmentalists across the U.S. have been unnerved, their confidence fed by support from the White House, which last week hosted a groundbreaking Solar Summit.

"I applaud the White House for highlighting the incredible success of the U.S. solar industry, and celebrating the hard work of the men and women who are driving our country’s clean energy revolution," said Jigar Shah, president of CASE – the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy.

"Since taking office, President Obama has been a champion for the solar industry, which has experienced rapid growth during his administration in large part because of the decreasing cost of solar technologies," added Shah. "The increasing affordability of solar energy is indeed driving our industry’s growth, but this progress is now threatened by trade petitions at the International Trade Commission and Department of Commerce which could impose new tariffs and raise solar prices across the country.

"As part of his 2014 ‘year of action’, I urge President Obama to continue to work with all the interested parties to negotiate a solution that will lay the groundwork for growth in all sectors of the U.S. solar industry."