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Roth: An open letter of thanks

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on June 4, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Roth: An open letter of thanks

Occasionally in life our journeys come full circle in a way that allows for reflection and gratitude, such as this, my last recurring column in this newspaper.

As a 13-year-old I was a paper boy for my hometown’s Wednesday and Friday Johnson County Sun newspaper. I would come home from school, find the large bundles on my doorstep, set about folding them and placing them inside the large canvas side bag and ride my bike while throwing the papers onto the lawns of the subscribing homeowners, often until dusk. In the rain the papers got a plastic bag, otherwise green rubber bands bound the tri-folded news. And then once a month I would walk the neighborhood knocking doors to collect the $2 per subscriber. I much preferred the time on my bike rather than the time chasing money. That hasn’t changed.

What has changed for me personally is that for the past nine years I have had the privilege to share a weekly column on the inside of a newspaper and a really good paper at that. The Journal Record is Oklahoma’s oldest business publication and since 1903 scores of hardworking reporters, designers, editors, printers and staff have consistently created an award-winning daily general business and legal publication. It’s been an honor to be an occasional columnist among those hard-working folks.

What has changed for the industry since 1903 is monumental. Gone are the Norman Rockwell-esque newspaper routes across America, replaced in part by online subscribers and clicks to drive readers’ interest and revenue. Color, font size, specialty sections and even the size of headlines compared to the size of news stories have all changed. But one thing hopefully has remained true: Americans need real and accurate news to not only sustain, but to improve, the greatest experiment in human governance, this American adventure of ours. And we need to actually read it for it to matter.

Joseph Pulitzer famously said: “What a newspaper needs in its news, in its headlines, and on its editorial page is terseness, humor, descriptive power, satire, originality, good literary style, clever condensation and accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!” And although he is best known for the Pulitzer Prizes created from his endowment of Columbia University, he is less known, ironically, for the use of “yellow journalism” (along with his chief rival William Randolph Hearst) to appeal to broader masses through lesser researched, or less accurate “news.”

Today, my car radio presets for satellite news scroll through CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC and the BBC. When those five prove frustratingly weak, biased or more ads than substance, the sixth preset is the comedy station for a much-needed break from it all. But we can’t take too many breaks from it all, or the hot air and yellow journalism risk replacing the importance of accuracy, fair reporting, deep thinking and the power of sunshine for our society.

So Thank You. Thank you to you readers for your interest in this publication and the importance of good journalism from these full-time professionals at The Journal Record. Thank you to those of you in journalism and news today who actually strive to be accurate, who know being balanced is more than a slogan and it requires genuine effort, and to those of you working long hours to provide today’s 24/7 news appetite, but who know that no matter how late the story, the truth is always timely.

I am grateful for you. And I am grateful for the chance to have shared energy and environmental ideas and observations for Oklahoma and beyond these past years, in a publication that strives every day to deliver the truth. Thank you.

Jim Roth has been appointed to serve as the new dean of the Oklahoma City University School of Law beginning July 1, and as an alum of OCU Law, will be enjoying that life’s full-circle opportunity of service.

Jim Roth chosen to lead Oklahoma City University School of Law as Dean

Jim A. Roth

Jim A. Roth

Jim Roth, Phillips Murrah Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group, was recently selected to become the Dean of the Oklahoma City University School of Law. He will assume his role on July 1.

“It is a huge honor to be able to serve my alma mater as its next Dean,” Jim said. “OCU Law School has given me so much, and being able to give back – especially at this level of commitment – is surreal and exciting.”

His role will include bringing his expertise and influence to the school in a variety of ways, including his natural ability to transcend typecasts associated with both the legal and academic professions. He noted that a goal is to help inspire future lawyers to place additional attention on the importance of preparedness and leadership in their profession, in their community and on the planet, all of which are quickly and constantly changing.

“The Dean today is not just the chief academic advisor and partner with the faculty,” Roth explained. “This role also requires excellence in admissions, success for student life and subsequently Bar passage, expanded opportunities for career placement, and work that connects Alumni and the broader community to improve the Law School’s impact.”

Jim Roth OCU Law commencement photo

Courtesy of OCU Law

Jim joined Phillips Murrah almost a decade ago and will continue to be an important part of our PM family. Having served as Chair of Phillips Murrah’s Clean Energy Practice Group, and through his thought leadership and advocacy, he has been a key component in helping the renewable energy industry flourish in Oklahoma. “I love the work, and the way we work, at Phillips Murrah and remain committed to our clients’ best interests forever.”

Prior to joining the Firm, Jim served as an Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner from 2007-2009 and was elected District 1 Oklahoma County Commissioner from 2003-2007. This experience, along with his presence and influence in Oklahoma in numerous areas of community leadership and advocacy, was a recipe for success as a finalist candidate brought forward initially by the OCU Search Committee, then voted on by the law school faculty, and finally appointed by retiring OCU President Robert Henry and his replacement, President-Designate Martha Burger.

The Law Dean selection process was rigorous, according to press statement released by Oklahoma City University on Friday, May 11.

“Jim’s appointment follows a thorough national search process, and his selection from the robust pool of applicants is a testament to his strong leadership skills and his vision to grow OCU Law,” President Henry stated in the release.

For further details about Jim’s background and legal practice, visit phillipsmurrah.com/jim-roth

Roth: Intuitive energy trend?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on May 7, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Roth: Intuitive energy trend?

A good strategic partnership is even better when it can help the environment and a company’s bottom line. Intuit, known best for software programs TurboTax and QuickBooks, has partnered with Just Energy, a Texas retail energy company, on an exciting and unique renewable energy affinity program, unveiled just before Earth Day.

Under the partnership, Intuit plans to share its corporate wind power procurement in Texas with commercial and residential customers, providing renewable energy at discounted prices. This innovative program was created with assistance from Renewable Power Direct, a national green energy marketer.

Intuit’s affinity program, Purely Green, features three-year contracts for residential service offered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at 9.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, a rate that appears to be lower than much of the brown power offers in the market at this time. This partnership leverages the environmental benefits but also offers the collective buying power to make green energy more affordable for all.

Google, Target, Wal-Mart, and General Motors are known for buying clean energy. Right here in our state, the Google data center buys its power from Oklahoma wind farms and the Grand River Dam Authority’s hydropower. While some of these corporations have internal commitments to reduce environmental impacts, for others, it’s just good business. Some companies simply buy the clean power for its lower cost. As GM’s global manager of renewable energy said last year, “it’s been primarily all driven off economics.”

The lower energy bills Intuit and other trailblazing companies enjoy can be attributed to several causes. Renewable technology hard costs continue to plummet, federal and state incentives have contributed to overall savings, and power purchase agreements provide the ability to negotiate terms deemed fair by those contracting, as well as offer a stable, reliable price for the purchaser and the buyer over an extended period of time.

As here, economies of scale allow the Intuit program to be cheaper for many. The company’s approach to sharing its power with others may be the first of its kind. Renewable Power Direct CEO Eric Alam expects “other large companies that buy wind and solar energy to begin exploring how best to share and leverage their green energy choices for customers and employees. This could significantly boost future demand for renewable energy and greatly expand the climate benefits of corporate green power programs.”

Here’s hoping others follow suit to save money and Mother Earth, while also helping to develop our region’s clean energy options.

(Disclosure: Jim Roth currently serves on the board of directors of the American Clean Skies Foundation, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., focused on American natural gas and clean energies, which was founded by the late Aubrey McClendon and maintains an interest in Renewable Power Direct.)

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Time to pay close attention to our energy future

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 30, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Roth: Time to pay close attention to our energy future

Last week, I discussed Oklahoma and U.S. exports and economic development.

Electricity is one obvious requirement for all of that productivity. Farmers rely on it to pump water for crops, manufacturers and the industrial sector are one of the largest customers of utility companies, at the other end of the spectrum, you and I need it to charge our phones and make coffee in the morning to begin our own productive days.

When we consider how we obtain the electrons to enable this productivity, a natural next step is to contemplate the larger infrastructure that makes it possible.

Oklahoma is a member of the 14-state Southwest Power Pool. The SPP dispatches the least expensive energy first, and Oklahoma’s affordable, abundant wind and natural gas help keep prices low for the entire region, while providing a boost to our state’s exports.

As we plan for the future, one important consideration in the bulk power space is the health of the electric grid, which our utilities, with our financial assistance, are constantly repairing and upgrading. With Puerto Rico in mind, we are reminded it is an uphill battle, to say the least.

The 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card gave U.S. electric infrastructure a D+ due to its substantial age and congestion issues. Most of it was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 10-year life expectancy. Today, erratic weather and severe storms, combined with much greater demand for electricity increase grid health concerns. Add to these the modern-day threat of cyberterrorism, which has become a real risk to the security of our grid system.

With all of this in mind, we would be well-served to pay close attention to our energy future, both in terms of cost and security. After all, what good is investing millions of dollars into infrastructure that can be shut down remotely from a foreign country?

Discussions of grid reliability are ubiquitous lately. Sen. Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently discussed the risks and consequences of an attack on the power grid. The following is a paraphrase, but his comments went something like, “we may be investing in the best planes, tanks, and guns, when much of the conflict in the 21st century will be in the realm of misinformation, disinformation, and cyberwarfare; and I don’t think we’re ready.”

Just this month, commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission referred to attacks on the grid as “constant” and of great concern.

As their costs continue to fall, distributed generation and smart grids are looking more promising and practical than ever before. Technology is rapidly changing. Consider when businesses each maintained huge in-house servers. The now outmoded technology is slower, more expensive to repair, and less reliable than cloud storage.

So, what is the future of the power grid? It is too early to know, but my guess is citizens will continue to demand the safest, cleanest, cheapest, and most reliable forms of power. A recent case-in-point: The United Kingdom just went 55 hours without burning coal and now has more offshore wind than any other country.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Oklahoma and the future for exports

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 23, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Roth: Oklahoma and the future for exports

The U.S. exports both goods and services with major categories in the former including food, beverage, and feed. Service exports exceed goods exports, and include things like travel and transportation, financial and insurance services, and intellectual property.

Our country’s largest goods export was soybeans, while the largest services export was in the travel and transportation sectors. The service sector is said to employ five times more people than those making goods.

Economists caution that the potential trade war could hit Midwestern states the hardest, especially states that produce soybeans, corn, or grains. The protectionism rationale in favor of the steel and aluminum tariffs is already said to be counterproductive by some analysts and commentators. One thing is for sure, it has many people talking about international trade and tariffs, and locally, our state’s own exports are being discussed.

Oklahoma exported more than $5 billion worth of goods and services last year. The state’s largest category was in civilian aircraft, engines, and parts, followed by automatic data processing storage units. Parts of pumps for liquids, cotton, and swine are next on the list. In addition to these goods, Oklahoma has decades of experience exporting fuel, like natural gas, through our system of pipelines.

In 1931, construction of a high-pressure pipeline from Oklahoma’s Panhandle to the Chicago area was completed, enabling our state to market this resource far from where it was released. Typically, more than one-fourth of Oklahoma’s natural gas gross withdrawals are consumed within the state.

Like Oklahoma’s aircraft parts, cotton, swine, natural gas, and crude oil, we are now developing more electricity through wind than our state’s load requires. Consequently, just like our oil and natural gas, we will continue to increase our export of wind electricity, although a great majority of it is consumed within our state. But, unlike our oil and natural gas resources, electricity generated from Oklahoma’s wind is a packaged, delivered energy. In other words, it is ready to go as soon as it is generated. Plus, as we were reminded the last week or so, it is abundant.

The dispatch of electricity, like all technological advancements, is evolving. Beginning in the 1950s we constructed interstate highways, and now we have a giant grid of surface transportation.

Similarly, electricity on the wires grid is evolving from local generation and consumption to regional power grids like the Southwest Power Pool, of which Oklahoma is a member. Soon we should be unlocking the technology to send Oklahoma electrons to places like Chicago and beyond, just like we do our natural gas.

On the other hand, we are also seeing more people desire off-grid power for a number of different reasons to discuss another day. It is an exciting and unpredictable future for goods and services and the impacts of consuming both in new ways.

One last thought on exports: Unfortunately, Oklahoma has years of experience exporting another valuable Oklahoma resource, talented young brains. Let’s hope we can figure out how to stop that trend by attracting a growing and vibrant, well-educated economy where innovation and investment unleash our best potential. That’s the first trade war we should fight: investing in our people, educating their children and growing their full potential.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The latest buzzzz on pollinators

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on April 9, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Roth: The latest buzzzz on pollinators

Nothing says, “April Fool’s” like a high of 40 degrees the day after it was 72. It was a rather timely coincidence since by last column featured the difficult work of climatologists in determining just what the crazy weather might do next. It isn’t just humans that the changing weather affects; climate change impacts bees and butterflies, crops, streams and lakes, bird migration, and ultimately, entire ecosystems.

The monarchs are just getting to Oklahoma on their 2,000-plus mile spring journey. These amazing insects take cues from the environment and cannot survive a long, cold winter, so climate change is especially harmful for them. If you are looking for a way to attract them to your yard, they rely on milkweed as their sole host plant. Of course, reducing or eliminating your use of pesticides and herbicides is important, too.

Honey bees have gotten more attention in the past decade or more, as does anything we are at risk of losing. While there are many possible reasons for this phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, the fact is, we lost 10 million beehives between 2007 to 2013, which is twice as many as normal. Thanks to awareness and action, great efforts are in place to save these pollinators, whose work our very food web relies upon.

Losing bees and butterflies has economic impacts on the agricultural industry since many crops, worldwide, are pollinated by Western honey bees. Around one-third of the food we consume relies upon pollinators like butterflies and bees. Dramatic weather can lower the quantity and quality of crops in an area due to drought, heat waves, and heavy rainfall. Oklahoma is an agriculture state so we know firsthand how distressing and unproductive a drought followed by a gully-washer can be.

So what can we do? We can focus on what we know and stay tuned to what scientists continue to discover. We know that climate change’s effect on agriculture is felt the strongest in the world’s poorest countries, so we can support efforts to teach these populations farming techniques that support a more stable food supply.

We know pesticides can be especially devastating to water sources, with the algal blooms in Lake Erie as one disturbing example; so we can cease or minimize our use of pesticides and herbicides, or use natural versions. We can opt for native grasses, flowers, and plants, which will both help our pollinators and require less water to survive. We can purchase local food from our co-ops and farms. There are tons of great resources online to learn more about each of these fascinating topics.

For us Oklahomans interested in helping, please check out a great resource provided by the Tulsa Zoo and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, in Poteau, Oklahoma, and their “Native Plants for Native Pollinators in Oklahoma” guide.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The Russians can’t take your microgrid

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 26, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Roth: The Russians can’t take your microgrid

On the list of benefits to increasing our use of renewable energy, safety is always one of them. Distributed generation, in particular, is more secure than our current energy infrastructure, and apparently Russia is out to prove it.

The situation we now face has been building. You might remember late last year when it was revealed that a National Security Agency contractor moved highly classified files to his home computer. The files detailed how the NSA both protects against cyberattacks and infiltrates the networks of others. Russian hackers were identified as locating these files through popular antivirus software the contractor used.

The software was manufactured by Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based company whose antivirus software was used by the U.S. government until legislation was passed banning its use due to national security concerns. The company repeatedly denied its involvement in cyber-espionage or that it was in any way tied to or influenced by any government. These efforts escalated and Russian hackers began attacking networks of smaller commercial companies that were deemed weaker and more vulnerable. They were practicing, so to speak, to prepare for the real aim: our energy systems, including the electricity grid.

Fast-forward to the latest development, in which Russian hackers had infiltrated U.S. systems, including energy, nuclear, water utilities, and other sectors. The attackers had acquired the ability to shut off electricity, they just had not acted on it yet. Perhaps Russians rightly realize that Americans won’t stand for having their lights turned off by a foreign adversary. Tinkering with our elections may be tolerable for some, but most won’t tolerate having their lives jeopardized with energy disruptions.

It isn’t only energy networks that need to be on high alert against cybersecurity – most critical infrastructure is managed online. So what are we to do? One answer comes through distributed generation. Some cities have been working on microgrids that improve local grid resiliency. Our military is developing solar-based microgrids to ensure energy security and continued operation during emergencies and prolonged outages.

Solar, in particular, is more cost-effective than the diesel-powered generators commonly used during power outages. Solar energy also reduces the need to rely upon the supply chain for fuel delivery. These emergency preparedness efforts are a no-brainer for critical facilities like military, hospitals, and all levels of government. And, if states would allow for third-party investment and leasing in distributed generation, the number of partnerships and benefits quickly multiply.

Cybersecurity is a rapidly developing area of the law and our state is fortunate to have the Judge Alfred P. Murrah Center for Homeland Security Law and Policy at Oklahoma City University’s School of Law, right here in Oklahoma City. The Murrah Center is preparing the vital group of future lawyers with its focus on domestic terrorism prevention, domestic security insight, legal analysis, and counterterrorism.

The center’s annual event, the National Summit on Homeland Security Law, takes place April 19 at OCU Law and provides a unique opportunity that brings together experts in the field and provides information that is applicable to most everyone. Tickets to the summit are available to the public; more info is forthcoming and can be found on the school’s website, assuming your computer still has access to electricity, at law.okcu.edu.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Tariffs affecting American energy?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on March 19, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Tariffs affecting American energy?

The threat of President Trump’s tariffs have again managed to bring together groups sometimes at odds with one another, when they attempted to dissuade the administration from imposing new tariffs.

Everyone from the American Petroleum Institute to the American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association, to congressional Republicans, to the broader stock market had negative reactions to the news of a 25-percent tariff on most steel imports and a 10-percent tariff on most aluminum.

Those on one end of that spectrum say the move could set off a trade war, while the other end poses that at the very least the result of tariffs could contradict the stated goals of an “America First” economic plan. World leaders everywhere in between denounce the move as damaging to international trade and nonconforming with World Trade Organization rules. We’ll see what they do.

The implications of the tariffs could be vast, as higher prices on steel and aluminum pose a real threat to many American industries, where those materials are significant inputs, and whose markets rely on low prices from imported materials.

The tariffs could have an unintended detrimental effect on American jobs for industries such as cars and energy. It is the same concept with tariffs on solar cells and modules. True, solar tariffs are sure to make panels from China and elsewhere more expensive to import, but the price increase on equipment, and thus entire projects, could scare off potential solar customers. Fewer solar customers lead to lower demand; lower demand means less solar jobs. With tariffs on steel and aluminum, the ripple effects are even more wide-reaching.

As they say, “all roads lead to Rome.” While there are other means to this end, Trump opts to penalize imports in an attempt to protect or prop up industries at home. But the tariffs won’t affect everyone – an exemption for Canada and Mexico has been discussed if those countries are willing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has been a frank and ardent opponent of the agreement. There is also a potential carve-out for U.S. parties who can demonstrate a demand for steel and aluminum that cannot be met domestically. Many folks across the energy industry want in on this exemption for obvious reasons, but the terms of the carve-out have yet to materialize.

Will the tariffs produce stronger steel and aluminum industries here at home, or will they cause trade wars worldwide? As per usual, we’ll have to wait and see, but for now most observers and energy industry participants suggest the effects will inflate their prices only nominally.

For now, we have the European Commission president’s pledge to slap tariffs on iconic U.S. exports, many from states described as Trump country, such as Midwestern wheat, Kentucky bourbon, blue jeans, and Harleys. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Energy independence closer to reality

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 26, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy independence closer to reality

As American oil production surpasses 10 million barrels per day, the latest World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency indicates the U.S. is poised to continue its record-breaking oil and gas production.

The report also predicts that by 2025, the U.S. could become the world’s largest exporter of LNG (we already export more natural gas than we import), and will begin to export more oil than we import, once thought unimaginable. The U.S. has not been a net exporter of oil since the 1950s, and following the 1973 oil crisis, was prohibited from exporting crude. The ban was intended to counteract future crises, and was lifted by the Obama administration in 2015.

Flashback to a previous World Energy Outlook report from 2012 when the IEA indicated the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil exporter by 2020 and become energy-independent 10 years later. That report also predicted that the U.S. would become a net exporter of crude oil around 2030. As recently as 2014, the U.S. was third behind Saudi Arabia and Russia in crude oil production.

We Oklahomans are familiar with the rest of the story, how technological advancement in drilling and fracking, or the shale renaissance, unlocked huge reserves of oil and gas and altered the energy landscape of Oklahoma and the world.

By 2016, the U.S. was exporting crude oil to nearly 30 countries. Last year, monthly exports exceeded 1 million barrels per day, but the U.S. still imports around 8 million BPD of crude oil, which is why the forecast of net exportation is really something.

The U.S. isn’t the only country reshaping its energy landscape. Saudi Arabia, through its Vision 2030 initiative to reduce its economy’s dependence on oil, is planning multifaceted changes to its energy industry this year. For now, Saudi has tentatively planned a 2018 initial public offering of its government-owned oil company Saudi Aramco. If projections are accurate, offering 5 percent of the company could raise up to $100 billion and would place the company’s valuation at or above $1.5 trillion. Saudi is also considering investments in U.S. shale interests, and as I discussed last week, is investing heavily in renewables. These possibly transformative steps within the Kingdom are occurring as American energy production and strength grows and Saudis grow nervous for their economy.

This month a supertanker full of American crude left the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP, for the People’s Republic of China. This was the first time for an export of this size that did not require smaller ships to shuttle their multiple cargoes out to supertankers waiting in deeper waters. LOOP, the only deep-water port in the U.S., has been instrumental in offloading imported oil, and now its ability to handle these massive tankers will both lower the costs and simplify the logistics of oil exports.

IEA reported this month that America’s net crude oil imports fell by 1.6 million barrels per day to just under 5 million bpd, the lowest level since the IEA began keeping this data in 2001. And the export of American crude jumped to just above 2 million bpd, close to a record high of 2.1 million hit in October, and those numbers have pushed our country’s net imports to a new low level. The promise of energy independence, at least on a domestic production and domestic consumption comparison, is growing closer to reality than ever.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Counterintuitive renewable energy progress

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 19, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Counterintuitive renewable energy progress

I have often said renewables are here to stay, in spite of some resistance from some corners of our economy.

Case in point, countries around the globe are investing in and developing renewable forms of energy in places that wouldn’t be that obvious. For instance, last year in the U.S., we installed more than 14.73 gigawatts of solar, while China installed more than twice that at 34.54 gigawatts.

While the technology for solar panels was created in the U.S., China’s embrace of the solar industry changed the economics. New research indicates that years of cheap Chinese solar panels dropped prices around the globe by 80 percent. China also dominates other industries the U.S. once led, currently surpassing us in the production of steel, automobiles, and cotton. China also leads the way in pollution as well as coal production at almost 4 billion short tons, compared to the United States’ 728 million short tons in 2016. It’s not all bad for the U.S. that China leads the way in solar; after all, the cheaper panels afforded the addition of hundreds of thousands of domestic solar installation jobs here in America.

But, there is more to this story. Renewable energy is being developed in other unexpected places.

In Saudi Arabia, the new crown prince and his energy minister are looking to diversify and grow the economy by maximizing the country’s vast sunlight. One example of this is a solar farm covering a massive parking lot at Saudi Aramco, the national oil company. For Saudi Arabia’s economy, oil has long been the kingpin – citizens get 50 percent of their electricity by burning oil.

But with new leadership (sometimes) comes new ideas, and the new goal is to install 41 gigawatts of solar by 2032. Questions about whether the plan will be implemented still remain. The benefits to the country include the price – with government-backing for projects, the energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels, and, with more citizens using renewables for their domestic energy needs, more Saudi oil is available for export.

These efforts won’t help China’s solar industry much; the bidding process requires the selected company to spend around 30 percent of total costs on domestic suppliers. A sort of “Arabia First” requirement.

Three other countries whose level of renewables might come as a bit of a surprise are Nicaragua, with plans to be powered by 90 percent renewables by 2020. Costa Rica, slightly more assertive than Nicaragua, aims to be completely carbon-neutral by 2021. And Uruguay, maybe the most impressive, is running on 95 percent renewables with only 10 years of effort, and all without subsidies or raising consumer costs.

These countries have geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind – hey, not unlike Oklahoma and its own diverse resources. But Nicaragua and Costa Rica have two things our state does not: volcanoes, which provide for vast geothermal energy, and government leaders who support the development of renewable technologies.

While we won’t have volcanoes anytime soon, we could stand to have more support to develop the many energy blessings found in our state. A sort of “Oklahoma First” energy policy, if you will.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Energy protectionism in the form of solar tariffs

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 12, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy protectionism in the form of solar tariffs

While this column was on hiatus, the president made his decision on the Section 201 International Trade case by, somewhat unsurprisingly, adding steep tariffs to solar cells and modules originating from China and several other countries. The tariff takes hold at 30 percent this year and will gradually decline to 15 percent in the fourth year.

During his tenure, Trump has been clear about his preference for coal over renewables, so he couldn’t likely squander this two birds, one stone opportunity to stick it to both the renewable energy industry and China. While it is true that cheap, imported panels have boosted the industry, huge investments, domestic job creation and low-cost clean energy accompanied that growth, which made for a complicated and contentious conflict.

As I’ve mentioned previously, many were troubled by the irony that Suniva and SolarWorld, the petition filers, asserted serious harm to the domestic solar industry, yet are foreign corporations, but both have headquarters in the U.S., which gave them standing to challenge the imports. Nonetheless, they prevailed over a massive response from the rest of the solar industry and others interested in trade practices.

One silver lining in the battle appeared when conservative groups ALEC and the Heritage Foundation came out against the tariffs. Their positions on the matter bolstered an already strong faction of those opposed to tariffs, and I am always optimistic when logic transcends politics. But, despite the efforts of the bipartisan opposition group, (not even a Sean Hannity commercial did the trick) the tariffs are the new normal for the solar industry.

But will the tariffs actually help American manufacturers ramp up, and what will those prices look like? Of course, this is yet to be seen. But those in the industry predict (and some have already seen) increases of 10-15 percent over total project costs. Those prices are obviously paid by American consumers. Prices increased upon the initial recommendations, and before Trump made a decision, as solar installers were stockpiling the affected equipment in preparation for what many knew would result.

Since tariffs are taxes, the end users are the ones who will eventually foot the bill. This decision has many, even supporters of the president, disappointed. Those in favor of a free market and especially those for free trade are calling the decision protectionist, while others are warning of a slippery slope not seen before in trade policy. The reason for the concern is that less than half of the petitions sent to the ITC have been granted any type of trade barrier, and since many believe this case lacked a definite injury to the industry, there are fears that other industries will file petitions with similar claims.

The great, hopeful fact that remains for America’s energy future, regardless of what this or any administration does to help or hinder it, is that Americans overwhelmingly want cleaner, renewable energy to power their lives. And as America further electrifies its future, Oklahoma’s sun and wind blessings should play a big role, so long as we don’t deny ourselves the future.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Director Jim Roth to speak on 2018 Legislative Session forum panel

Jim A. Roth, Phillips Murrah

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Director Jim Roth will participate in a panel during the First Week Forum, an event hosted by The Journal Record designed to inform attendees about hot topics and major issues facing the state and nation during the 2018 Legislative Session.

The First Week Forum will host sessions from 3 to 7 PM this Thursday at the Oklahoma City University School of Law.

Roth will be speaking during the Energy Panel alongside Mark Yates, Director of the Oklahoma Wind Coalition; Chad Warmington, President of Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association; and John Harper of American Electric Power who will be moderating.

“The Journal Record is bringing sunshine to the state capitol political sausage factory at an unprecedented time of budget woes and two concurrent legislative Sessions,” Roth said. “We will discuss the issues of the day and hope Oklahomans can gain information for their benefit going forward.”

Other panel topics include criminal justice reform, education and health care, and registration for the event is free.

Those interested can view a full list of speakers and panels here.

Roth: The high cost of climate volatility

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on February 5, 2018.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The high cost of climate volatility

Natural disasters cost the United States $306 billion in 2017, matching a previous record set in 2011.

Hearing this, we Oklahomans can recall that last year’s tornado season, which resulted in one death in our state, was comparatively tame, although that is hardly a term to describe a tornado season or a loss of life.

The costs from the 2017 figures are mostly property damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and damage from wildfires that plagued the West Coast. And the numbers of lives lost and injured continue to grow.

States all across the country suffered damage from all forms of severe weather, including wildfires, resulting smoke and ash, droughts, floods, unseasonable tornadoes, damaging hail, excessive rain, dangerous winds, record snowfalls, and severe thunderstorms. Sixteen devastating weather events, each with a price tag over $1 billion, tested this country’s resolve and took lives.

I listed Maria, but this storm warrants its own discussion. Damage estimates are just under $100 billion for this hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico and other nearby islands. Some parts of Puerto Rico remain without power still and will be for eight months or more as efforts to rebuild the electric grid continue. If that doesn’t make you want to put up solar panels or live free off the grid, I don’t know what will.

But surely it will get better? No, say scientists, climate change will continue to cause worse weather. Every state is experiencing erratic and above-average temperatures, five of which set record temps last year, and in December, Alaska experienced temps that were more than 15 degrees above average.

That was 2017. Right away, 2018 added insult to injury in California, when land that was raw and barren from the recent historic wildfires was pummeled by mudslides destroying homes and lives. While we can quantify the damage to property, the harm caused to humans is, in some cases, quite literally immeasurable.

For instance, there are physical health hazards from wildfires that accompany the smoke and ash that blanketed not only California, but also nearby Washington and Oregon. Even more difficult to measure are the psychological tolls that frightening weather events have on people. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with that concept in Oklahoma.

If you are like me, you like the optimistic, fresh start a new year offers. So here is a productive tool you can use to offset some of this human activity that leads to this troubling news. Previously I’ve mentioned the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator. This is a great way to live consciously while actively doing what you can to reduce your daily greenhouse gas emissions.

As the price of climate change and erratic weather continues to rise in American lives and property, every individual effort helps.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Putting politics aside for renewable energy

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 27, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Putting politics aside for renewable energy

Green cities continue to emerge from the coal dust.

Optimistically, some leaders are even proving they will rise above politics with their efforts. After all, clean energy should not (and is not) about politics, anyhow.

Lately renewables are being chosen over other forms of energy for reasons of “dollars and sense.” I recently happened upon a piece about a Texas city that will be the first to use 100 percent renewables in U.S. News, which led me to that publication’s list of the 10 states using the most renewable energy. The top 10 are a bit surprising and extremely promising, especially when you consider all the abundant clean energy here in Oklahoma.

In these 10 places, it’s not about whether they were likely to have supported Obama’s Clean Power Plan or Trump’s plan to eradicate it; these leaders have run the numbers and are implementing renewables accordingly, because it’s in their citizens’ economic interests.

That Texas city, the city of Georgetown, despite being extremely conservative, is one of the first cities in the country to use 100 percent renewables. The mayor there, Dale Ross, intends for his legacy to be that the environment in his city, and thus the planet, will be better because of Georgetown’s efforts.

Renewable energy just makes sense, say Mayor Ross and other city leaders, so politics didn’t (and shouldn’t) play a role in the decision. When the city was looking for a new energy provider, they discovered that after deregulation of retail energy, renewables were more cost-effective. Additionally, policies former Texas Gov. Rick Perry put in place allowed for the installation of large generation tie lines to bring wind across the state from the windy west side. As a result, Georgetown locked in their rates with wind and solar energy for 20 years.

I love the mayor’s quote regarding that decision, “Do you think that the wind is going to stop blowing in Texas, and the sun is going to stop shining in Texas, before or after we run out of fossil fuels?”

Oklahoma has a chance to put politics aside, too. When something is cheaper and cleaner, logic should conquer politics. Recently, my friend Johnson Bridgwater, who runs the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke about Oklahoma’s solar energy potential (it is enormous). He pointed to a map of the U.S. that indicated states with excellent “peak sun hours,” or those with the best potential for solar energy, and asked, “If this map revealed our oil and gas plays, would we sit on them?” No way. We’d materialize that energy. Which is what I hope our state will do. Our energy potential is before us, if we have the courage to remove politics and act in our citizens’ collective interests.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Coal ash disposal and verb tense

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 27, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Coal ash disposal and verb tense

Back in 2014, the Obama administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, passed a final rule called the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities regarding CCRs (coal combustion residuals or “coal ash”) disposal.

The rule addressed the concern that coal ash contains mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, and can and has leaked into groundwater, blown into the air, and decimated the surface.

But keeping in line with the idea you can’t please everyone, the rule was considered too lenient for some and too stringent for others. In fact, those in the former camp were dismayed the rule did not classify coal ash as toxic waste. What the final rule did do was to create regulations and standards concerning the disposal of the byproduct that comes from burning coal for energy.

Fast-forward to last month when the Trump administration’s Scott Pruitt indicated the EPA would reconsider the rule after being sued over it by Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, a utility company industry group, and AES Puerto Rico, which operates a coal-fired power plant.

Those parties asserted the rule went too far in its regulation over inactive pits, where coal ash has been deposited but is not actively being added to, and active pits, those areas currently being filled with ash.

This past week, in oral argument at the D.C. Circuit, the parties underwent a grammar lesson, which concentrated on whether the EPA’s authority extended to inactive coal ash pits.

A focus on where the waste “is disposed of” was said to concern the present tense, or active coal pits. It was argued by petitioners that the EPA had “limited statutory authority” over inactive pits that had not seen new coal ash in some time. This argument essentially suggests the reach of the EPA regulation is only on the disposal activity and not on the lingering environmental risks that remain.

This discussion over the tense of the statute and how it affected the EPA’s authority took a majority of the hearing and its detailed nuances brings into focus the reach of environmental regulation in America.

The EPA expressed its desire to address the issues in the rule through its rulemaking process. One judge on the D.C. Circuit voiced her concern that “nothing would ever get decided” if that were the route taken, seemingly a nod to the current administration’s multiple efforts to prop up the waning coal industry.

It seems to me that when one is arguing the breadth or limits to a new rule, like the Coal Ash Rule, it’s most important to look to the enabling act and its intended reach. In this case, the enabling act is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which typically creates the framework for hazardous and non-hazardous solid wastes.

The Coal Ash Rule was promulgated under sub-part D, similar to open dumping of wastes, operation of municipal and industrial waste sites, and location restrictions like flood plains and wetlands.

It may be nuanced to argue verb tense, but it seems to me a regulation is effective only if it accomplishes its intended purpose to protect the public over the course of the hazardous and non-hazardous materials’ life, not just the act of someone “dumping” it somewhere at one single point in time.

“Safe disposal,” in the eyes of the waste’s nearest neighbor (and their water well), probably should include how it lingers in that disposal location.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The Senate tax bill’s effect on energy

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 20, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The Senate tax bill’s effect on energy

Last week I considered how the House tax proposal would impact the energy industry. With the release of the Senate’s proposal, we now wait to see how Congress will merge these two versions. The current schedule has them submitting a bill to the president before year-end.

As a refresher, the House plan severely injured renewables, hitting wind the hardest, with its early sunset of vital tax credits including both the investment tax credit and production tax credit. Not the Senate bill, though – it leaves those in place. It also leaves the marginal well credit in place, a fact that many Oklahomans will appreciate.

One positive feature of the Senate’s version is its silence on the electric vehicle credit. The House bill removed a $7,500 incentive for EV car buyers.

The incentive was achieved via a bipartisan effort aimed at bringing parity between electric and combustion engine vehicles. Since the incentive was put in place, every major car manufacturer has unveiled plans to increase its electric vehicle production. Some companies, like Volvo, pledged to make all of their vehicles electric (hybrid or plug-in) or “electrified” (a non-plug-in electric version) beginning in 2019.

The EV component is really important to the renewable energy story, as it will no doubt be a catalyst for those who are reluctant to embrace other types of green living such as installing solar panels on their roofs or a geothermal system underground.

Other key differences between the bills are that the Senate’s version also cuts the corporate tax to 20 percent, but not until 2019, where the House’s cut would go in to effect after Dec. 31. Unlike the House’s proposal, the Senate version does not eliminate any brackets, but does lower rates more than its House counterpart.

The Senate bill treats small business pass-through entities differently – more favorably – than the House bill. There are a vast number of oil and gas related pass-through small businesses in Oklahoma that would stand to benefit.

While the Senate version is far more courteous to the energy sector than its House counterpart, there are still many things left to contemplate. For one, two major promises by congressional Republicans have been the repeal of Obamacare and tax reform.

The Senate bill attempts the old two birds, one stone idiom with its repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate. This relates to the energy industry as so many oil and gas companies and affiliates are small businesses, which often means many of their employees are independent contractors. Obviously this repeal would lower tax rates for all Americans, but its wide-reaching effects on the state of health care in our country remains to be seen. It is estimated that remaining insured Americans would see an increase of 10 percent in their premiums, which might actually exceed the tax break savings the bill otherwise proposes for middle-income Americans. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: A victory for fossil fuels over renewables

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 13, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A victory for fossil fuels over renewables

At this juncture, it isn’t shocking to read the new tax proposal and learn that it harms renewable energy.

The headlines immediately bifurcated the energy sector into winners (fossil fuels) and losers (renewables). Retention of many long-standing fossil fuel breaks and incentives were an unsurprising boon for oil and gas companies, while the phase-out of many energy efficiency-related investment tax credits have the green energy industry angry and activated, and rightfully so.

It is counterintuitive that the tax proposal injures wind so badly, since it is proven, efficient, and reliable, and complements well with natural gas as the least expensive power source(s). While logic can’t be tied to the attack on wind, politics can. The tax proposal keeps in line with the current administration’s efforts to favor fossil fuels, especially coal, no matter how dirty or expensive. Plus, the revenue yanked from wind incentives goes to fund the newly created corporate tax revenue hole, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates this past week is the largest part of the $1.7 trillion estimated the GOP plan adds to America’s debt.

Subtitle F (the proposal’s heading dealing with energy credits) inadvertently got the letter grade it deserved as it outright fails renewable energy. Under the plan, the $7,500 tax incentive on electric vehicles is eliminated. States that mandated goals for zero-emission vehicles did so with an expectation of the incentive. Not to mention EV car companies whose business projections are based on the existence of the tax credit and a chance to keep American car manufacturers competitive with the world.

This section also contains certain repeals of oil and gas incentives, too, namely, the repeal of tax credits for marginal wells. This is especially negative for Oklahoma as the age and extent of our historic oil and gas production means we still have a significant number of marginal wells at work here in Oklahoma. Since many of these are owned and operated by mom-and-pop companies, it seems the GOP draft favors today’s large corporations over small businesses, at least as it relates to oil and gas marginal wells.

Another less obvious way the plan helps oil and gas corporations and harms renewable energy developers is the latter’s reliance on tax equity investors. Larger exploration and production-companies will benefit from the new corporate tax rate of 20 percent, down from 35 percent. But the model for many renewable energy projects relies upon, among other things, tax equity financing. When tax exposure is lower, it could follow that there would be less interest in tax equity financing projects, of all kinds, and especially energy.

Nevertheless, I remain steadfast in my confidence for our state’s and nation’s diverse energy future. Of course this optimism is buttressed by the reminder that there are still forthcoming amendments, and this plan will not likely become the final law. The bill, as proposed, violates the “Byrd rule,” a Senate reconciliation rule that, in part, allows senators to block legislation when it would considerably increase the federal deficit beyond a 10-year term.

So far, there are over a trillion reasons either of our two U.S. senators could block this draft and insist it be rewritten to help all forms of Oklahomans’ energies. Stay tuned.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Director Jim Roth introduces Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Oklahoma, state’s clean energy potential

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, visits NextEra Energy with Jim Roth, Phillips Murrah Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group

Jim Roth, Phillips Murrah Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice, was quoted in a Duncan Banner article by Katherine Farrow regarding a recent meeting he and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had in Duncan, OK on Nov. 8 in regards to Oklahoma’s clean energy future.

Read Roth’s comments from the article below:

Jim Roth, Director and Chair of law firm Phillips Murrah’s Clean Energy Practice Group, said that he was contacted by Zuckerberg’s office approximately four months ago to set up the visit.

“Mr. Zuckerberg has undertaken a year of travel challenge where he’s going to all parts of America, and particularly states he’d never been to before — his office reached out to me about four months ago — inquiring about if they were to come to Oklahoma, what would I recommend they see,” Roth said. “I began to describe to them the promise of Oklahoma’s wind energy and future solar energy and that seemed to pique their interest.”

Kismet dictated that Zuckerberg and his team would be visiting the week before Veteran’s Day, and Roth knew that wind energy giant NextEra would be the perfect destination due to their veteran-friendly hiring policies.

“One of Oklahoma’s larger wind developers also has a program where they actively recruit and employ veterans and this week of his planned visit being near Veteran’s Day, I think that was also interesting to them,” said Roth. “So, it was nice that NextEra wind energy, with its Rush Springs wind project that came online just last year, was able to play host.”

Zuckerberg spent his time at the wind farm speaking with wind technicians, land owners and neighbors of the project about the ways wind energy has been beneficial to their lives.

“Mr. Zuckerberg wanted a chance to have a casual, relaxed, engaging conversation with actual Oklahoma wind technicians,” Roth said. “He asked that some surrounding neighbors and landowners that had turbines on their properties come and join and sit down for lunch. So, it led to just a really great dialogue where he asked questions and they provided some neat answers and he got to learn about — what it takes to be a certified wind technician. What other careers that some of those employees had — before and why they loved being in wind energy today. He’s heard from the landowners, their appreciation for how the funding goes directly to local schools, how the wind turbine royalty payments have helped their farms with some secondary income and generally just had a really nice exchange. He’s very gracious, the guests and the wind techs — had a great time engaging with him and all in all it was definitely a nice conversation.”

A look at a horizontal blade that was on the ground as well as a tour of an actual wind turbine and tower were two of the items on the agenda for Zuckerberg, who according to Roth, very much enjoyed the time spent and knowledge gleaned from the experience.

“He just talked about how kind everybody was — how much he enjoyed it, I think he really enjoyed the back-and-forth with the local landowners and the wind-techs, so I would say all-in-all he seemed to have a really positive experience,” Roth said.

Even Zuckerberg’s advance team enjoyed their look at Duncan and the surrounding areas, according to Roth. The team reportedly was in the area several days in advance to make sure the visit ran smoothly and had nothing but glowing reviews for Duncan and Stephens County.

“—His team had arrived a few days in advance, enjoyed themselves in Duncan, had a chance to site visit the day before just to make sure everything went smoothly,” said Roth. “They shared with me they had a wonderful, positive visit to Duncan and they loved, ‘How friendly everyone in Duncan is.’ ”

Roth said he was extremely impressed with Zuckerberg, as well and hopes to be able to boast of another Facebook founder visit to the state someday.

“There’s just this human element, right? Where he arrives in jeans and a hoodie and is unassuming and was just down-to-earth and very gracious and treated everybody equally. I saw him really demonstrate a level of intellectual curiosity and just a graciousness toward people that was nice to get to witness firsthand,” Roth said. “I’m thrilled that — they had such a good visit and I hope they’ll come back and even invest more in Oklahoma.”

Read the full article from the Duncan Banner.

NewsOK Q&A: Manufacturing sales tax exemption is tool for attracting, maintaining investment

From NewsOK / by Paula Burkes
Published: November 3, 2017
Click to see full story – Manufacturing sales tax exemption is tool for attracting, maintaining investment

Click to see Jim Roth’s attorney profile

Jim A. Roth, Phillips Murrah

Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Q: What is Oklahoma’s manufacturing sales tax exemption?

A: Goods and equipment used in a manufacturing operation can be purchased exempt from sales and use tax by manufacturers. This type of sales tax exemption is designed to attract and promote business. It’s a proven tool that governments employ to make their communities more attractive. The rationale is simple: draw out-of-state investment and keep in-state investment rather than relinquishing that investment (and the associated jobs, taxes and infrastructure) to a competing location.

Q: What is the relevance of the sales tax exemption to the energy industry?

A: Under Oklahoma law, the term “manufacturing” includes the conversion of materials and natural resources into other materials that have a different form or use. This definition encompasses processes ranging from the manufacturing of oil field equipment to petroleum refining. Electric power generation is also considered manufacturing. As a result, power generators such as natural gas-fired power plants, coal-fired power plants and wind energy facilities are deemed manufacturers and are permitted to purchase equipment to be used in the power generation process exempt from sales and use tax. Ultimately, the exemption is designed to help qualifying energy companies stay afloat — especially during capital-intensive phases — and keep investing in Oklahoma.

Q: This exemption has been a hot topic at the state Capitol during special legislative session. What are some of the issues at hand?

A: Oklahoma is facing a historic budget shortfall, with risks of further cuts to state agencies becoming a very real possibility. Legislators are searching for dollars to help plug financial holes before the ship sinks, and many of our state’s tax incentives and exemptions may be on the chopping block. There has been discussion of removing wind energy companies from access to the manufacturing sales tax exemption. While wind developers have made it publicly clear they’re already invested in Oklahoma to the tune of billions and plan to stay for the long haul, it’s important to revisit the reason for such exemptions in the first place and consider that the opposite is also true: if certain companies or industries are punitively cut out of such exemptions while still paying millions in taxes, it may make Oklahoma a difficult place to do business, which will, in the long run, discourage investment and aggravate our state’s budget problems.

 

Roth: Sharing the warmth with solar energy

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on November 6, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Sharing the warmth with solar energy

You may have noticed the Salvation Army’s Share the Warmth program on your electric bill.

Many areas have similar utility assistance programs that help residents who are having a difficult time paying their utility bills. Some utility companies are taking this idea to a whole new level by building solar energy projects whose electrons are devoted specifically to lower-income residents. Three such examples come from New York utility Con Edison’s pilot project; Colorado’s collaboration between the state Energy Office, Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit, and Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, an electric co-op; and finally, a California law that incentivizes affordable housing owners to install rooftop solar that would pass financial savings to tenants.

The Colorado low-income community solar project, currently the largest of its kind in the U.S., was made possible in part by a grant awarded by the Colorado Energy Office. Most of the energy from the 1.95-megawatt solar array will be devoted to low-income residents and housing providers as well as nonprofits, all located in rural areas. The pilot project is scalable and affordable and maximizes less-desirable land adjacent to a landfill. Plus, the project will help train a new workforce of solar installers. For one of the partners, Grid Alternatives, the project serves as a continuation of its mission to bring solar choice to people who do not have the resources to install it on their own.

In New York, Con Edison’s program just received approval in August and intends to pilot a scalable program with an eventual goal of 11 megawatts that would serve up to 6,000 residents from the utility’s low-income bill assistance program. New York’s Public Utility Commission was involved in reviewing and approving Con Edison’s project. The PUC recognized that the project aligned with the state of New York’s “Reforming the Energy Vision” plan to reduce emissions and increase access to distributed generation.

Never to be outdone in the solar arena, California has committed up to $100 million per year for the next four to 10 years toward low-income solar accessibility. Last year, the Legislature passed the Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program, which uses funds from the state’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program to provide subsidies to affordable housing owners who install solar with the requirement that associated cost savings are extended to tenants.

The financial benefits that accompany these programs are largely tied to flexibility in states’ policies such as third-party ownership of solar assets and net energy metering. Third-party ownership allows for a company with adequate capital to build and bear the costs of these projects and the resident to benefit from the system. Net energy metering is the idea that consumers who generate their own electricity can use that electricity anytime, instead of at the moment it is generated. Policies like these are imperative to solar energy development.

If you are like the many Americans who love the idea of incorporating solar energy, I encourage you to reach out to your electric utility company and let them know of your interest.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: A focus on conservation, climate science

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 23, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A focus on conservation, climate science

Once a year, I like to spread the word about an organization that is not only near and dear to me, but plays a vital role in shepherding and improving the environment in our great state and beyond.

The Nature Conservancy’s work focuses on land, water, and ocean conservation, and climate science. Formed in 1951, TNC works in 72 countries with a dedicated staff that includes more than 600 scientists.

In its earliest days, TNC accomplished its mission by acquiring land that was ecologically valuable in order to protect it. The organization also received conservation easements and held partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management. Conservation easements, somewhat analogous to the premise of historic preservation guidelines in which the landowner retains title, permits TNC the right to enforce restrictions on certain types of harmful activities. Today, 3.2 million acres are held under conservation easement.

TNC’s work has always been grounded in science, long before science was so controversial. The national organization has an annual program called the Science Impact Project that brings together exceptional and pioneering scientists from a multitude of fields who apply with a submission of a unique project. The program provides a unique way to foster collaboration and innovation to promote conservation efforts while preparing scientists to be multifaceted leaders.

Thanks to TNC, right here in Oklahoma, we have the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie on earth at the Joseph H. Williams Preserve. In fact, some of Oklahoma’s favorite in-state getaway areas benefit from our local TNC, such as Black Mesa Preserve, Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve and the J.T. Nickel Preserve in Cherokee County. These are all open to the public.

While Oklahoma has more preserves that are more limited to the public, all can be visited on what is referred to as a field trip, where the organization holds events in these great spaces. Please check out the website for these details. Many resources can be found on the website, including one called “Plant this, not that,” which offers a guide for planting native plant species rather than non-native invasive ones (read: redbuds in lieu of Bradford pears, please).

There are numerous ways to get involved with the Nature Conservancy. You can volunteer, visit a preserve, use their carbon calculator to assist you in reducing your footprint in your day-to-day life, and for a worthwhile interruption, take a virtual tour with phenomenal 360-degree videos that will remind you just how spectacular Planet Earth is. They also provide internships for both high school and undergraduate students.

I would be remiss if I did not suggest (nudge): If you have an interest in making an investment that will join with others to create a meaningful and large-scale impact for good, I suggest financially supporting the Nature Conservancy. The organization is efficient, transparent, and effective, and is ranked among the most respected nonprofits. It has met the BBB Wise Giving Alliance standards and has been recognized by Charity Navigator for its track record on accountability. I hope to see you in the great outdoors. Thanks, TNC, for all you continue to do for Oklahoma and beyond.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: The potential of offshore wind production

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 16, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

The potential of offshore wind production

There have been so many exciting clean energy topics to cover lately that I want to circle back to one that was announced in late summer.

We know onshore wind development costs continue to decrease, but as Seb Henbest from Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicated, (hinting at that group’s National Energy Outlook report) offshore wind costs are expected to fall even more rapidly than those of onshore wind. The in-depth report considers factors that will shape the sector to 2040.

This prediction is all the more likely thanks, at least in part, to U.S. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with 10 of their colleagues from states all across the nation, who have introduced a bill that will encourage the development of offshore wind.

The legislation, if passed, would incentivize developers using a 30 percent investment tax credit redeemable for the first 3,000 megawatts placed into service. In an environment where incentives are being swiped from our local wind developers, it is refreshing to see a group of our nation’s representatives, diverse in both their geography and political affiliations, propose such a productive industry expansion bill.

The lawmakers suggest that volume of energy capacity would require the development of 600 wind turbines. Emphasizing the critical role the tax credit would play, the bill proposes to incentivize the first 3,000 megawatts, rather than a specific cutting off the credit on a specified date. The legislation defines “offshore facilities” broadly, including any facility located in the inland navigable waters of the United States, such as the Great Lakes, or in coastal waters including the territorial seas of the United States.

What makes this exciting is that while there is the potential to power the entire east coast with offshore, as with all burgeoning technology, costs are high. But as Europe has demonstrated, a little incentive goes a long way. The result: increased investment combines with advances in technology which lead to rapid declines in cost. It is a proverbial win-win. Or, as the authors of this new legislation called it, a “win-win-win” (domestically-produced, renewable power, cleaner air, and more American jobs).

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Energy policies should communicate Oklahoma is open for business

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 9, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy policies should communicate Oklahoma is open for business

Oklahoma wind’s positive impacts on our state are well-documented: more than $12.3 billion invested, more than 8,000 home-grown jobs and $22 million paid annually to farmers and ranchers in the form of land-lease payments, in addition to myriad other benefits. What’s more, wind energy is infinite, and its reliability has helped steady electricity costs and lower utility bills for citizens statewide.

As special session marches on, there’s no doubt our state legislators have their work cut out for them – we’ve got a historic budget hole to fill. However, we must be careful not to make decisions in a panic today that will permanently damage our state’s long-term economic health.

When other industries were forced into hiring freezes, wind energy was hiring. When drought struck Oklahoma’s farmlands, wind energy was there to supplement farmers’ and ranchers’ incomes with land-lease payments. When rural schools started suffering without resources, wind energy companies hand-delivered school supplies. Additionally, the industry is projected to pay in excess of $1.2 billion in property taxes through 2043 directly funding public schools.

However, with stakes high at the state Capitol, anti-wind special interests, lobbyists and some legislators are targeting wind energy yet again, calling for punitive measures that would place an unfair burden on this industry, even after wind energy has given up every industry-specific tax incentive. It’s important Oklahomans and our elected officials know the truth so they can protect themselves from rampant misinformation about an industry that’s invested so much in our state.

The latest threat from the anti-wind lobby surrounds Oklahoma’s manufacturing sales tax exemption, which enables any company operating in Oklahoma that applies for a specific permit the opportunity to take advantage of this exemption to offset its operation costs for purchases of machinery and equipment, energy and tangible personal property used in design, development and manufacturing. These special interests want to single out wind energy and keep them from claiming this exemption, even while all other manufacturing industries – including other members of the energy industry – are still able to participate. It just doesn’t make sense.

Exemptions like these are common and proven tools for attracting outside business investment and keeping existing business investment in a given area. Energy projects across the spectrum are known for being very capital-intensive, and often millions have been spent and countless jobs created before oil and gas companies start drilling or wind companies install turbines.

Punitively removing one industry from this exemption’s benefit only stands to drive wind energy investment to friendlier states, taking their jobs, landowner payments and taxes with them. And the risk of losing investments to neighboring states is real. Developers warn me that such a repeal would be a self-defeating step, as dollars leave the state. It is estimated that wind in Oklahoma would then be 30-50 percent more expensive than in Texas, Kansas and Nebraska. Further, Oklahoma will miss out on new investment opportunities with our Southwest Power Pool expanding to include Colorado and Wyoming, as the SPP buys electricity on low price alone. Now is not the time to drive energy investment out of Oklahoma.

We must start thinking long-term, showing diverse industries that Oklahoma is open for business. As our elected officials gather next week for special session, I’ll be calling my legislators asking them to support wind energy and keep wind investing in Oklahoma. I hope you’ll join me.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: National Clean Energy Week

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on October 2, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

National Clean Energy Week

Friday marked the end of the inaugural National Clean Energy Week. The brainchild of several energy groups and associations, the idea is to give clean energy the attention it deserves.

I, for one, am happy to oblige. Imagine this: You electrify your house with rooftop solar panels, perhaps those are backed by a Tesla home battery that provides a charge to your electric vehicle while you sleep, your geothermal system heats and cools your home using heat from the Earth’s core, and water for a hot shower comes thanks to a solar water heater.

Where any of this technology fails to provide the power you need, the local utility provides wind power and when that is intermittent, it is backed by the cleanest of the fossil fuels, natural gas. All of this is quite achievable, especially in Oklahoma, and we should all consider these innovative and renewable energies, even after the close of National Clean Energy Week.

As you ponder that, consider these recent highlights from each major renewable energy source that power our lives – wind, solar, geothermal, electric vehicles.

Wind: A newly introduced U.S. Senate bill would create a new investment tax credit to kick-start offshore wind. I look forward to following and discussing this in the future. Here in Oklahoma, the exciting news to keep your eye on has to be Public Service Co. of Oklahoma’s announcement of the Wind Catcher project that would provide PSO and SWEPCO’s areas with 2,000 megawatts of wind from the Oklahoma Panhandle.

Solar: As discussed last week, the holding pattern continues as the entire solar industry awaits the outcome of the International Trade Commission tariff case. Solar has made huge strides in the past few years and it is widely believed that it will overtake wind in the next decade or so. American jobs in solar grew at a 25-percent pace over last year to 260,077 today. The growth projections for solar energy (and solar jobs) are pretty striking since today the total U.S. installed solar capacity is around 40 gigawatts, while wind sits at approximately 82 gigawatts.

Geothermal: The science and mechanics of this source is tried and true. The perpetual heat that can be pumped using geothermal systems within “about 33,000 feet of Earth’s surface contains 50,000 times more energy than all the oil and natural gas resources in the world.” Geothermal has wide application from residential backyards to large power plants. Ask anyone who has a system installed and prepare to be shocked at how low their utility bills are all year long.

Electric Vehicles: Dyson, the company that made us enjoy vacuuming again, just announced it will join the EV industry with plans to have its version available in 2020. If Dyson remains true to its brand, the car is sure to be simple and sleek.

Move over, Elon Musk? But seriously, Tesla continues to keep us in awe, this time with a touch-screen in place of traditionally built-in dashboard controls in the new Model 3. That one starts at $35,000 and gets 220 miles of range, and may finally be in range for more consumers. Moreover, if you do not want a Tesla, there are 12 other EV choices in America today. The projections are that by 2040 more than one-third of all vehicles will be electric or plug-in hybrids.

So while it is clear that clean energy is becoming a daily thing every year going forward, the first Clean Energy Week has just concluded, but really, it has just begun.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: World energy outlook

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on September 18, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

World energy outlook

The U.S. Energy Information Administration publishes the International Energy Outlook Report, as well as heaps of other important energy data.

An agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, the EIA is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating independent and impartial energy information. Also a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, the EIA strives to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment. And its prognostications are just, well, cool.

The EIA projects a 48 percent increase in world energy consumption by 2040, which is good for an energy state like ours. But the type(s) of energy is what should draw our attention.

Check out this chart to see the projects, where the greatest percentage growth seems to be in natural gas, renewables and liquid fuels (source):

The international report analyzed energy consumption for years 1990-2040. The EIA also publishes an annual Energy Outlook Report for the U.S. with the 2017 iteration projecting data through 2050. The report’s authors aptly warn that the data consist of projections, not predictions.

While the report considers many factors, a few among them technological progress, energy policies and world oil prices, it goes without saying uncertainty exists in every market. The energy industry is no stranger to market fluctuations due to adverse geopolitical events, the advent of new technology, changes at the impetus of the industry, and many other considerations. A current example to watch is the tariff petition solar manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld brought before the International Trade Commission. ITC is expected to vote at the end of the month. Stay tuned for how that decision, and subsequent action by the president, will affect the solar industry in the U.S. and beyond.

Promisingly, the report revealed renewables are growing faster than any other energy source for the period analyzed, with nuclear tracking closely behind. The projected growth of renewables is attributed to a desire for energy security, the negative effects of emissions on the environment, and long-term high oil prices. Some of the aforementioned rationales support natural gas is the fastest-growing of the fossil fuels.

Despite a projected increase in renewables, world-consumption of fossil fuels will still sit at the three-quarter mark of all energy consumed through 2040. Coal is growing the slowest, but will still rise slightly, in part due to China’s vast consumption – it consumes half the world’s coal, add to that India’s consumption, and the number becomes 70 percent. Unlike much of Europe, the U.S., and others, Asia is not a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and, not surprisingly, China and India, are projected to make up more than half of the world’s total energy consumption.

Both countries are working on plans to reduce emissions, although since those country’s demand is tied to economic growth, the mitigation policies being considered will not make a huge difference. If the U.S. and other OECD members can remain focused on encouraging safe, clean, renewable, cost-effective energy sources, perhaps we can force the world consumption trajectory in a sound direction.

But then again, as those who toil in energy know, sometimes we can cause the ripple, but most often we are forced to ride the wave. Be aware of the projections and decide where your efforts lie in the probable path forward in America and the world.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Time to reap benefits of hydrogen

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on September 11, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Time to reap benefits of hydrogen

A previous column considered hydrogen’s increased use primarily in fuel cell vehicles, but there are some exciting advancements for hydrogen’s potential use in utilities.

Innovation requires effort and capital, so augmenting the research that expands the applicability of hydrogen is key. Hydrogen is not just for NASA’s rockets or, worse yet, even for North Korea’s crazy rocket testing. Hydrogen is used all over the world to fuel public buses, material-handling vehicles like forklifts, and as mentioned, fuel cell vehicles. Hydrogen can help solve energy problems in the future, but the research needs continued funding.

Promisingly, several corporations are leading the charge, as well as great work by the National Renewable Energy Laboratories.

I open with a reference to NREL, which is known as a neutral organization, owned by the U.S. government and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, but run by a private contractor, because, as always, there is another side to hydrogen’s uptick: the side against it.

First as a refresher, some high points of hydrogen’s potential as a fuel. It can be stored indefinitely and transported easily, which makes it a viable solution to the intermittency issues posed by some renewable energy. Timeless storage and ease of transport also make hydrogen fuel cells more efficient and longer-lasting than lithium-ion battery technology, which is currently experiencing a zenith.

Tesla co-founder Elon Musk is quoted saying hydrogen as fuel “is incredibly dumb,” but comparing hydrogen cell-fueled to purely electric vehicles at this point would be to undermine its potential – the technology just isn’t as developed yet. When we were all carrying (and impressed by the capabilities of) PDAs, it is a great thing that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak proceeded with the technology that would give us iPhones, though at the time, it probably seemed far-fetched.

Other naysayers cite a lack of infrastructure. The counterargument to this has to be: Were there cellphone charging stations inside airports in 2010? Demand can produce the infrastructure, although its growth may be incremental.

I prefer the old adage “rising tides lift all boats.” Obviously, the future of hydrogen cell-powered vehicles is yet to be seen, but it is exciting to think of yet another clean energy option, which Oklahoma can strongly contribute. It’s also interesting to think, as Motley Fool recently stated, that investing in certain hydrogen fuel cell stocks today is likely akin to buying Amazon stock in 1997 ($5,000 then, worth $1M now). Please consult your own investment expert before following that advice.

But nonetheless, if since the 1970s NASA could use hydrogen to fuel its space shuttle and also allow the crew to safely drink the byproduct of that fuel, then isn’t it high-time the rest of us reap some of the benefits of abundant hydrogen here on Earth?

Major global companies like Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA and Toyota have formed a hydrogen council of 13 energy, transport and industrial companies to consult with public policymakers about the promise of hydrogen. They have committed nearly 11 billion euros in hydrogen-related products within the next five years and are betting that batteries are not the only way that hydrogen can help reduce pollution in cars, homes, utilities and businesses. That type of push may just be what hydrogen needs to get off the ground.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Sun shines as energy option in state

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 28, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Sun shines as energy option in state

Keeping with last week’s solar theme, I recently ran across an Aug. 28, 1982 news article by M.J. Van Deventer that highlighted another bright spot in the booming solar industry 35 years ago in Oklahoma. The article highlighted local, women-run businesses and gave a fascinating insight into these energy pioneers working in the burgeoning solar industry.

“(The Oklahoma Solar Energy Industries) Association records listed 15 member businesses one year ago, and none had female executives. Today, the association counts 45 state corporations involved with solar. Of the total, at least 15 include women in top executive or management positions.”

How about that? Thirty-five years ago, Oklahoma had a nascent, but women-led thriving solar energy industry. This pleasantly surprising realization made me proud of 1982 Oklahoma. And naturally, I wanted to know the history.

In 1978, Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, or PURPA. Initially, PURPA provided independent energy producers interconnection rights to the electric grid. This general concept is known today as utility deregulation, with the nearest example in Texas.

PURPA also required utilities to buy electric power from such private qualifying facilities at an avoided cost rate. Avoided cost is the marginal cost for a public utility to produce one more unit of power. These developments provided a market for utility-scale applications of photovoltaic electricity and other solar electricity systems as it paid the equivalent to what it would have otherwise cost the utility to generate or purchase that power themselves. Further, utilities had to provide backup electricity – at a fair rate – to customers who choose to utilize residential rooftop PV systems. These concepts were premised on ideas of customer-friendly competition.

However, there is more to how Oklahoma’s initial solar industry began to grow. Passed the same day as PURPA, the Energy Tax Act, part of the National Energy Act, had the goal of shifting away from traditional energy dependency toward energy conservation.

It was a response to unstable geopolitical events, namely the 1973 oil crisis and other events. The ETA provided tax credits to homeowners who installed renewables such as solar, wind, or geothermal. The act also incentivized the production and purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles.

This began a trend that spanned the country and saw individuals investing in safe, reliable, renewable energy. And as you know, some of these concepts have waned, while others have flourished.

So where is Oklahoma’s solar industry today? In addition to geopolitical rifts, U.S. politics played a large role in this story. Suffice it to say, these incentives left the White House not long after President Carter due to the Reagan administration’s position that renewables should be left to the free market. And famously, the new administration even removed the solar panels that had been installed atop the White House. Over the coming years, the change in policy and attitudes also blunted efforts here at home.

Today, most observers believe that the second coming of solar energy will thrive no matter who occupies the White House, mainly because solar economics have improved enormously. The price of panels, coupled with the rising prices of electricity, create a comparative opportunity for a quicker payback.

Oklahoma’s energy blessings of affordable and abundant natural gas, and even cheaper wind energy, make Oklahoma’s price for electricity (10.53 cents per kilowatt-hour) one of the lowest in the country (the American average is 13.22 cents), thanks in large measure to our utilities’ cost-conscious efforts and cheaper fuel.

This mixed blessing may mean a slower payback for a rooftop installation, compared with a California resident (19.39 cents), but today’s technology and our state’s solar ratings and libertarian tendencies mean that as an energy option, the sun is definitely shining again.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Energy industry provides help for public schools

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 14, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Energy industry provides help for public schools

School bells begin to ring across the state this month amid severe budget shortfalls. But there is hope yet, as schoolchildren receive inspiration, edification, and subsidization from the energy industry.

Back in 2011, Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma First Energy Plan listed a number of challenges faced by schools in the state. Among them: K-12 math and science programs are failing to inspire or prepare students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematical careers; and classrooms are growing, but education resources have been strained to keep up in a tight budget environment. And as you probably know, state-level education funding has even been strained much harder since then.

But thankfully, local support remains strong for education and so too do local resources in many areas of the state, thanks to local investments like Oklahoma’s wind energy industry. Data commissioned by the State Chamber reported, “[i]mportantly, the increased revenue provided to school districts containing wind energy projects benefits not only those districts, but districts across the state as well. The calculation of state aid to local school districts takes into account a number of the district’s revenue sources. If, after those sources are tallied, the district’s projected per-pupil revenue exceeds 150 percent of the projected state average per pupil revenue, the amount of state aid supplied to that district is reduced proportionately. This means more state funds are available for the support of all Oklahoma schools.”

Put another, more direct way, when a wind project is located in a rural part of Oklahoma, that massive investment allows those schools to get an increase in local funding, which in turn reduces their need for state funding, which can then help those districts where wind energy projects aren’t located. A win-win.

In Minco ad valorem tax revenue paid by local wind developers helped provide for a new high school. It also makes up about 10 percent of the school’s budget. Even more recently, Okarche was able to construct a new gym, elementary school and agriculture and technology building, rather than deciding between those projects.

Oklahoma has enormous potential for another infusion of local investment benefiting local schools, in the form of solar energy. Solar panels on schools are becoming increasingly popular and affordable. Across the country school solar projects continue to pop up and offer not only reduced energy bills, but serve as unique teaching tools that inspire the next generation of inventors, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and so on. Additionally, the projects have data collection systems which provide teachers with innovative lesson plans and students with interesting data to analyze.

Other Oklahoma energy industry leaders in the state offer direct support to schools, too.

Oil and gas producers not only pay business personal ad valorem taxes at the local level, industry leaders like Devon, Chesapeake, and OG&E provide cash and educational programs directly to schools.

One interesting project is Devon’s Science Giants grant, which delivers resources to educators who have applied with an idea to help spark students’ interest in science, technology, and engineering. These types of company engagements and generosity are fueling and inspiring Oklahoma’s young minds. And we should be grateful for it.

Oklahoma’s diverse energy landscape can benefit so many. From solar panels on schools, to natural gas-powered school buses, to significant local revenue from wind farms, my hope is that our energy leaders will continue to educate, support, and inspire our youth at the local level, and that our energy horizon continues to broaden for every Oklahoman’s sake.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: Overshooting our planet Earth

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on August 7, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

Overshooting our planet Earth

As of Aug. 2, we earthlings consumed more natural resources than Earth can renew throughout the entire calendar year. Eight months and a day into 2017 and we have tipped past the point of sustaining ourselves as a species. This day each year has become known as Earth Overshoot Day and it has been occurring five days sooner each year.

According to the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization, “we use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester.”

And while sounding the alarm, GFN also offers some practical, real-world (pun intended) global ideas for improving our planet’s sustainability, in four main categories: food, cities, population and energy.

All human beings require food to survive and sadly too many are faced with too little, and even here in Oklahoma food scarcity is a serious threat to many people. While it is estimated that food demand makes up 26 percent of the global ecological footprint, two major issues help understand what drives this challenge.

First, food production is rife with inefficiencies and animal calories are significantly more resource-intensive to produce than plant calories, and so countries like China are actively working to reduce meat consumption by 50 percent per person by 2030.

Food waste is also a causative issue, with almost 33 percent of all food produced worldwide being wasted or lost. Here in the United States, an estimated 40 percent of all food goes to waste and there are efforts underway via UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 to halve the per capita global food waste at both the consumer and retail levels by 2030. These objectives would move the Overshoot Day back 11 days if successful.

Energy is certainly something we Oklahomans know a good deal about and we do so because we are that rare donor as a state, meaning we produce more forms of energy than we consume. But our individual footprints are still an area of concern when you consider the broader effect. And even though the current American president has indicated his intention to remove the federal U.S. government from the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate, 99 percent of the rest of the world remains committed.

As it relates to energy, this nearly unanimous consensus centers around decarbonizing the world economy, which is not welcome news if you are in the energy production business and your product contains large amounts of carbon. But if you are in, or moving toward, low- and no-carbon energies, your horizon is looking brighter based upon the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 for Affordable and Clean Energy and its stated promise. Goal 7 calls for increasing the share of renewable energy in the world’s energy mix by 2030, reduces the carbon component of humanity’s footprint by 50 percent and would move back the Overshoot Day by 89 days, almost three months. This goal alone, as detailed in the Paris Accord on Climate, would make the Earth three months more sustainable in just the next 13 years.

It’s perhaps because of this enormous potential that last month 19 nations of the world’s largest economies recommitted themselves, in a joint statement of the G20, to the accord and the goals within it. For there is always one thing we earthlings share in common and that’s the reality this third planet from the sun is the only place in the universe known to harbor life.

Moreover, if you are curious about your own ecological footprint, that specific date in which you and your habits shot past the Earth’s renew point, you can download your own footprint calculator at www.footprintcalculator.org.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.

Roth: A reprieve for ethanol?

By Jim Roth, Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group. This column was originally published in The Journal Record on July 31, 2017.


Jim Roth is a Director and Chair of the firm’s Clean Energy Practice.

A reprieve for ethanol?

Have you ever driven by a gas or convenience station and saw a “100% real gasoline” sign posted proudly by the station owner?

In this summer driving season, I bet you have seen such signs somewhere in Oklahoma or elsewhere in America. At the heart of the “real gasoline” claim is that no amount of ethanol or other alternative fuel additive comprises the gallon of gasoline for your vehicle, but instead it’s derived 100 percent from petroleum. And believe it or not, the oil industry and the Obama administration both agreed in recent years that less ethanol in Americans’ gas tanks was a good thing and was legally possible for the 2016 total renewable fuel volume requirements rule determined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That was, at least, until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that Obama’s EPA and the oil industry and refiners were both wrong, giving a major victory to the ethanol and alternative fuels industries instead, when it rejected the EPA’s use of an inadequate domestic supply waiver to reduce ethanol levels in gasoline.

Congress adopted the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005 and expanded it in 2007, both times signed by President George W. Bush. The program requires oil refiners to blend increasing volumes of renewable fuels with gasoline and diesel, culminating with 36 billion gallons in 2022. This has led to a domestic biofuels industry that some seem to either love or hate because of its effect on domestic oil prices and its environmental pros and cons.

On average, a 42-gallon barrel of crude oil yields about 19 gallons of gasoline when processed at an oil refinery. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are 137 operating oil refineries in America, including four in Oklahoma: Ardmore (Valero), Ponca City (Phillips 66), Tulsa (HollyFrontier) and Wynnewood (CVR Energy). These refineries are industrial process plants where crude is processed into gasoline, diesel, asphalt base and other petroleum products. And while many in the industry feel there aren’t enough refineries in America to bring refined petroleum products to market quicker, most everyone now believes there is more than enough supply of domestic oil. Today there are no ethanol plants in Oklahoma.

Each year the EPA sets a new national renewable fuel mandate, via public rule promulgation process, to create what’s called the Annual Renewable Fuel Standard, and in that process it can be allowed a waiver to lower the amounts or ethanol and alternatives. It did so in 2015 for the 2016 standard as it does each year, but the alternative fuel industries sued, alleging that the EPA abused its authority. The former EPA, and the oil industry supporting its approach, apparently ran afoul of the law encouraging ethanol by going beyond the simple question of adequacy of supply of the alternative fuels themselves, when it tried to consider whether there were adequate biofuel refueling stations and ethanol pumps at gasoline stations. These types of market issues, according to the court, go beyond the EPA’s legal discretion.

So now, the new EPA will have to redo the 2016 standard requirements that were already implemented, but here we are in the second half of 2017. It might make more sense for Congress to revisit the law now that the reality for domestic energies has changed so dramatically since 2005.

But then again, it might be easier for the EPA to build a time machine in 2017 to craft a fuel standard for 2016 today, rather than Congress to do anything.

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.