- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma electricity customers with solar panels or small wind turbines could face a new monthly surcharge from their utility under legislation being considered by state lawmakers.

The measure directs utilities to recover the costs of providing electrical infrastructure to homes or businesses with solar panels or small wind turbines, The Oklahoman reported (http://bit.ly/1fa6ox0 ) Saturday. The costs would be determined through a rate tariff filed with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Steve Wilke, with Delta Engineering and Design in Norman, said the bill creates a lot of uncertainty for his business, which designs and installs residential solar and wind systems. He won’t be able to offer customers an accurate estimate on savings when they could face monthly service charges.

“I can’t say with any certainty what kind of cash flow they’re looking at when this charge could be $10 a month or $50 a month,” Wilke said. “I can see it diminish future development.”

Wilke said the bill would punish customers with solar panels who are reducing their electricity demand from a utility, especially during hot days when usage spikes.

With the cost of solar panels falling, Wilke said a residential electricity customer with a monthly bill of $125 could see payback in 10 to 12 years from the installation of rooftop solar panels.

Such a system would cost $25,000 to $30,000 but would qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit, he said.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea said the bill wouldn’t apply to existing solar or small wind customers who have signed up for net metering, the program that allows them to build credits for generating excess power. The legislation also wouldn’t cover electricity generated from emergency backup generators.

O’Shea said customers with solar panels or small wind turbines are getting infrastructure benefits subsidized by other customers, many of whom can’t afford the large upfront costs of solar or small wind turbine installations.

“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” O’Shea told the newspaper. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”

O’Shea said she didn’t have any estimates on the infrastructure costs to serve customers with distributed generation. The utility has about 200 customers on net metering plans out of about 780,000 in Oklahoma.

The bill passed the Senate 41-0 and is expected to be before the House’s Utility and Environmental Regulation Committee on Monday.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com