There was a little good news recently from state regulators for the environment and Oklahoma homeowners who have been yearning to do a little more to protect it but lacked the motivation available to those in neighboring states.
It was surprising for a couple reasons. For one thing, it has been like pulling teeth to get Oklahoma's elected officials to do anything that resembles the promotion of solar energy at the expense of fossil fuel industry.
The other surprise is how little coverage there has been about the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's recently implemented rules for distributed generation. Those rules will guide how publicly regulated utilities in Oklahoma compensate owners for excess power created by solar and small-wind systems.
These revisions, while not quite as generous as those in neighboring states, are a step toward unleashing the state's solar potential. While Oklahoma reportedly has the potential to produce more solar energy than 54 other states, it ranks as No. 43 in the nation due to state policies that have inhibited its development.
Oklahoma has had a process known as net metering in place for some time. That process required publicly regulated utilities equally offset from any energy consumed at a location any energy produced by a distributed generation system at the same location.
Previously, the amount of energy that could be offset by a consumer was capped by the amount of energy consumed during the same billing cycle. The revise rule will require those utilities to compensate the owners of solar and small-wind systems for energy generated in excess of the amount consumed.
Regulators placed some restrictions in the revised rules.
For example, utilities will be required to pay only the wholesale rate for excess electricity that flows back to the grid. The excess energy for which utilities will be required to pay this "avoided energy cost" also will be capped as will the size of the solar and wind systems qualified for payments.
These restrictions place those who want to go green at a disadvantage compared to residents of some neighboring states where there are no similar caps. But the revised rules open the door to some opportunities previously unavailable.
The popularity of rooftop solar systems grew much faster in states where laws promoted more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and encouraged adoption of solar technology. As a result, businesses that offered to finance panels and installation based on the amount saved — or earned — on utility costs were hesitant to do business in Oklahoma.
That situation likely will change, opening the door for companies that will bring new jobs to Oklahoma and options for consumers. It appears to be a decent first step out of the dark and into the sunlight.
D.E. Smoot covers city/county government for the Phoenix.