A disturbing story out of the Sooner State this week, noted by Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Under the terms of a recently passed bill, expected to be signed by Governor Mary Fallin, homeowners who install their own private solar or wind turbine energy resources and sell some of the juice back to energy companies will be paying a fee for the privilege.
Utility customers who want to install rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines could face extra charges on their bills after legislation passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday.
Senate Bill 1456 passed 83-5 after no debate in the House. It passed the Senate last month and now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin for her approval.
The bill was supported by the state’s major electric utilities, but drew opposition from solar advocates, environmentalists and others. It sets up a process at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to establish a separate customer class and monthly surcharge for distributed generation such as rooftop solar or small wind turbines.
As Doug notes, the claimed reasons for the energy companies and their surrogates (who are behind the move) wanting these fees imposed are weak tea at best.
While I suppose there might be an argument for allowing utilities to recoup costs that are legitimately incurred from the practice of selling energy back to the grid, 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. As the linked article goes on to note, these types of systems benefit energy companies by helping to reduce demand on the grid during peak hours and by increasing the amount of energy available during those periods. Given that, one would think that energy companies would want to encourage this sort of thing rather than backing measures like this which could potentiallly hamper it. It’s hard not to see this as an effort by the utility companies to hamper the competition that solar and wind generated energy provide them and, of course, to make sure that they still manage to make some money out of the deal.
There seem to be some activists who are far too quick to embrace this sort of legislation (currently on the table in a number of states) by conflating the issue with the many problems associated with the government getting involved in green energy initiatives. This is a false assertion which, in fact, runs contrary to conservative principles. It is a given that having Washington put their thumb on the scales and dump taxpayer dollars into energy technologies which are unproven or not ready for prime time has been an expensive and unmitigated failure. What this does not mean is that there is no useful application for these technologies anywhere, and small installations of solar, wind and micro-hydro generation have proven effective in private use. If you can exercise your own independence and initiative to supply your own energy, good for you! And if you can create more than you need and sell the excess for a profit, what is more conservative and capitalist than that?
Further, a resourceful person should be preparing to manage and maintain their own energy supplies. As both Erika and I have warned repeatedly, rafts of new regulations from Barack Obama’s EPA and pressure from eco-warriors is moving us toward potentially crippling shortages of energy on the grid. If enough coal fired plants are shut down prematurely, you may not be able to simply take it for granted that the lights will come on when you throw the switch some morning. People willing to make the investment in producing their own energy – as well as spreading the extra around – should be encouraged, not subjected to discouraging fees.
Besides, the total amount of power created by private distributed generation is miniscule compared to the total supply and demand on the grid. This is a giant using a shotgun to go after mosquitoes. So how do rules like this make their way into law? I’ll leave Doug with the last word on that one.
Of course, measures like this have nothing to do with “free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty” and everything to do with crony capitalism.