There must be something wrong in a state where sunlight hours available for generating energy ranks sixth in the nation but actual output can be found somewhere at the bottom of that barrel.
Rack another one up for Oklahoma. While Oklahoma could be a Top 10 state when it comes to solar energy generation, the lack of clear policy guidelines and legislative support have hindered its development.
Despite its potential for solar development — a study commissioned by the Sierra Club in September shows Oklahoma ranks among the top states with an average of 4.5 to 5.5 hours of peak sunlight daily — we rank “42nd in the nation for installed solar energy production.” Solar Energy Industries Association sets Oklahoma’s solar generating capacity at 45.91 MW.
That is a drop in the bucket compared with solar generating capacity of 1,552.98 MW in Georgia, where lawmakers have embraced sustainable energy policies. The $2 billion solar industry in Georgia — there are just 4 to 4.5 hours of average peak sunlight daily there — is the product of “generous net metering credits, a history of clean energy tax credits and codified permissibility” of third-party power-purchasing agreements.
Despite the lack of support at the state level — some might describe it as outright resistance fueled by the fossil fuel industry — the solar industry continues to invest in Oklahoma. The Sierra Club report cites an investment of $56 million, which supports 739 jobs provided by 33 companies.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows solar photovoltaic installers will be the occupation with the greatest growth potential through 2026, growing at a rate of 105 percent. Demand for wind turbine service technicians is expected to experience the second fastest, with an increase of 96 percent — median annual salaries for those occupations now are $39,490 and $53,880 respectively.
Oklahoma lawmakers have an opportunity this year to embrace the future. There are several bills that have been sent to committees that address some of the policies issues that have kept us from capitalizing on clean energy.
With the Capitol awash in campaign cash from the oil and gas lobby, there is a chance those bills — much like Oklahoma’s potential to be a Top 10 state in solar energy production — might not see the light of day. This issue — and those bills — deserve public debate and votes on the floors of both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature.
It is unlikely solar energy and wind energy will supplant fossil fuels entirely any time soon. But the technology has reached a point where those energy sources can meet much of the demand for electricity inside Oklahoma and beyond its borders and do so without consuming or polluting other natural resources like soil, water and air.
Transitioning takes time and preparation. The time to prepare is now.
D.E. Smoot covers city/county government for the Phoenix.