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Roth: Reasons to stay ‘air aware’ in Oklahoma

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 21, 2018.


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

Roth: Reasons to stay ‘air aware’ in Oklahoma

Often Missouri is referred to as the Show Me State, yet we Oklahomans also typically like to see things ourselves to believe them. Yet, there are realities around us too opaque for the human eye, such as air quality and impacts to our health.

Thursday’s ozone warning, a second warning this month, was just such a reality reminding us of the rising temperatures and the growing dangerous levels of particulate matter that rise with warmer months in Oklahoma’s more urban areas. The Air Quality Index forecast, which prompted the warning, showed an AQI of 101, a level described as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” The accompanying health message indicates that “active children and adults, and people with lung disease, such as asthma, should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.”

Now before you rejoice that an ozone warning simply provides a great excuse to put off mowing your lawn, for many Oklahomans it’s a much more serious challenge to their day. But first, let’s understand what makes up the ozone levels and the accompanying dangers.

This amazing Earth of ours has both naturally occurring and human-made pollution, which together create air quality issues impacting human health. And while I recognize a few (a very few, mostly political scientists, not science scientists) outliers still refute the enormous scientific consensus that human activity leads to climate impacts and climate change, have you ever noticed that our ozone health warnings usually apply only to Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, where humans congregate and commute, where factories churn out industrial output, where cars, homes and buildings emit pollutions by their very existence? But I digress.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality does a great job monitoring the air quality across Oklahoma and providing advice and warnings to the public when conditions could be hazardous to our health. Bad air quality can affect everybody’s health and can be particularly harmful to fast-growing young children and aging seniors with reduced immune systems. It even has direct economic impacts through loss of working days and increased health care costs. It can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

And while we can make a marginal difference ourselves, the enormity of the situation really requires collective group efforts, which is why the Clean Air Act and related environmental regulations are designed to protect those vulnerable Oklahomans on days like Thursday. Ozone is one of six common air pollutants identified in the CAA, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls these “criteria air pollutants” because their levels in our outdoor air need to be limited based upon health criteria for Americans.

Ground-level ozone is the primary component of smog and it forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds chemically react with sunlight of hot, windless days. Bad ozone itself is not emitted directly into the air, but is created from that chemical reaction (from other polluting resources emissions) when in the presence of sunlight. These pollutants come from a variety of sources including electric power plants, cars and trucks, construction equipment, gas-powered engines of all kinds, industrial facilities and even your backyard charcoal grills.

Unhealthy levels of ozone can cause increased risk of respiratory infection, throat irritation, coughing, shortness of breath, aggravation of asthma and other respiratory diseases and can even add dangers to people with diabetes, emphysema and cardiovascular diseases. During higher level of ozone days, the risks and impacts are made worse by activity and exercise outside.

There are actions that each of us can take to alleviate the risk, reduce air pollution and protect our health. If interested, please check out AirNow at the EPA website for some great tips: airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=resources.whatyoucando.

Also, in Tulsa please consider INCOG’s site: www.incog.org/Environmental_Planning/environment_air_quality.html.

And in Oklahoma City, ACOG’s site: www.acogok.org/transportation-planning/air-quality/ozone-alert-days.

So in addition to being “weather aware” this time of year, it makes sense for us Oklahomans to be “air aware”
too, even if you can’t see the pollution with your own eyes. Trust me, your lungs and bodies know it’s there.

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 for a long-overdue legislative break

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 14, 2018.


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

Roth: Time for a long-overdue legislative break

Oklahoma’s Senate, and later, state House, adjourned sine die May 4, earlier than planned, and not without objection up to the bitter end.

This legislative session was one for the record books, though, to many, not in a positive way. Elected leaders began with a $425 million budget deficit, following multiple years of shrinking revenue and deficits.

But what felt different this year, besides the two special sessions that seemingly went off without a break after last May’s sine die, was the level of engagement by droves of individual constituents and even groups of newly formed advocates. That said, the greatest difference this session has to be that most state agencies received budget increases for the first time in more than a decade, to address many core services.

Our state’s energy industry was among those that had a tempestuous session, which featured a roller coaster of potential tax increases and threats of eliminated incentives, the details of which changed not by the day, but the hour.

Talk of incentives will likely always be a mood killer at a social engagement, as you either believe them to be an effective tool or despise them. My experience places me in the former camp most of the time. Incentives are economic development tools that, if used properly, can boost a nascent industry and provide real benefit to targeted area of industry or even a boost to a particular area of the state.

Grass-roots efforts like the teacher walkout, the Step Up initiative(s) and Restore Oklahoma’s ballot initiative petition to restore the state’s gross production tax to its historic 7-percent rate made hot topics of energy taxes and incentives among those Oklahomans who did not previously have reason to pay them much attention. Now, these issues are part of everyday conversation across the state and an informed electorate is always a good thing.

So how did it all close? The GPT incentive rate for the first 36 months of most wells’ production increased from 2 to 5 percent, then it moves to its typical rate of 7 percent.

These changes garnered mixed reaction from industry leaders, many of whom had previously supported an increase to 4 percent last October. Leaders in the wind industry had worked with lawmakers in past sessions to eliminate incentives in 2016 and 2017, although much debate in 2018 centered around the legacy cost of past tax credits.

One measure that failed to get enough votes was an effort to eliminate the refundability of those projects already in place, costing each wind project millions of dollars. The passage of this measure would have harmed investors, landowners and rural schools that all rely on royalties and local property taxes, as well as potentially send projects into default with lenders. The Senate saw this as ruinous to Oklahoma’s business reputation and rejected the House’s efforts here.

As I’ve said countless times, Oklahoma should be eagerly but shrewdly investing in all our state’s energy offerings, new and old, rather than attacking one or more forms of energy or industry. Oklahoma’s wind, oil, and natural gas are abundant, and so is our solar potential. Let’s hope the roller coaster that was this session does not permanently damage our state’s business reputation. We still need to attract out-of-state investment to lift all boats here in Oklahoma.

We should all find ways to work together for the benefit of our entire state throughout the year. Energy wars make the whole state look risky, whether in session or not. But for now Oklahomans, let’s enjoy a long-overdue break.

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: 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: A quote to remember this spring

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 2, 2018.


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

Roth: A quote to remember this spring

It is officially spring. At least here in the Northern Hemisphere. In Oklahoma we’ve lost an hour of sleep but some of us enjoy the earlier sunrise and later sunset the longer days offer.

We Oklahomans know that with spring come tornado season and our obsessive assessment of the weather. Lucky for us, we have the National Weather Center in Norman, with some of the foremost scientists in the field doing their best to evaluate our crazy weather and warn us when necessary. The center is a sub-organization of the National Weather Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Climate Prediction Center, also a part of NWS, forecasts future weather conditions relative to what is normal, as opposed to daily weather forecasts that aim to predict things like high and low temperatures and rainfall potential. Each year in March, the Climate Prediction Center releases its Spring Outlook report. This year, the report predicts moderate flooding, warmer-than normal temperatures, and persistent drought that will affect more than one-fourth of the country from California through Oklahoma and the Great Plains.

Another timely release for the erratic weather season was a new study that links warming Arctic temps to colder weather, again. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. Peer review is one indicator of reliable research. A peer-reviewed publication requires the author to offer strong evidence for the conclusions set forth. Other scientists in that field read the work and provide feedback as to whether they regard it as sufficiently high quality to publish. The process is somewhat analogous to a Daubert hearing for legal evidence. These methodologies are not perfect, but they provide an opportunity for scrutiny, and scrutiny can reveal the weakness in an idea, thus allowing it to be improved or rejected.

Increasingly, climate-related science is subject to intense scrutiny, at times more Draconian than Daubert. Despite this, scientists persevere, and this study reveals results similar to those that have preceded it in earlier studies. Generally, that climate change is not fake news; specifically, this study revealed a nexus between warming temperatures in the Arctic and an increase in severe winter weather in the eastern U.S., and did so more extensively than previous studies. While the scientists duke this out, one concept that has been continually proven is that greenhouse gases are warming the planet, and the Arctic is warming more quickly than other locations. Since science and our ability to understand the things around us is always improving, I pose, at the very least, that we remain open-minded to repeatedly demonstrated research.

The author Robert Pirsig is quoted as saying something really provocative about dogma. “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because their dogmas are in doubt.”

In other words, loud people on the subject of climate change are probably less secure about their beliefs (and the evidence to support it) than those that more quietly rely on established, peer-tested science. So as the raucous Oklahoma spring season begins, especially as Easter coincides with the change between March and April, it might be a good time to read up on the Climate Prediction Center’s recent study and then see for yourself what climate unfolds.

Oh, and one more favorite quote to remember: Science doesn’t care if we believe it or not, it just is.

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: Plugging into the charging infrastructure market

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 12, 2018.


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

Plugging into the charging infrastructure market

We know electric vehicle sales are charging ahead, but where do we charge them? Charging is no problem if you have a driveway and an outdoor electric outlet, or live in California, where there are about 12,000 charging stations (compare this to Germany, which currently has the same). But what about those who live in multifamily units or park on the street?

Lucky for us, there are plenty of smart, motivated people working on this opportunity. I call it an opportunity because if implemented properly, the accessibility of electric vehicle charging won’t amount to a challenge. Moreover, the charging infrastructure market is projected to grow to about $20 billion in the next five years.

For clarification, because the terminology varies, a charging pile is a slower, single station using alternate current level 1 and AC level 2 charging you might find in a parking lot or other public place where a vehicle would be charged for an extended time. A charging station is more like a gas station with multiple, higher-speed, usually direct current chargers. “Charging station” is commonly used for either of those examples.

In Oklahoma, charging stations are increasingly popping up around us. The City Center East parking garage in downtown Oklahoma City just installed new stations, and solar-powered EV charging projects have recently come online by Oklahoma-based companies Delta Energy and Design in and around OKC, and Francis Solar in and around Tulsa.

Globally, new ideas continue to develop with regard to EV charging. A German telecommunications company just announced plans to more than double the country’s number of charging stations by converting its distribution boxes to standard and fast-charging stations by 2020. In England and elsewhere, lampposts have been retrofitted for electric vehicle charging points. Last year China announced it would build 167,000 charging stations. This is a logical next step there since leaders plan an eventual outright ban on fossil fuel vehicles and have already made it more difficult to build them. India, the world’s third-largest oil importer, has plans to sell only electric cars by 2030. It, too, has begun to invest heavily in charging infrastructure.

Once more of us are driving EVs and the infrastructure is in place, the focus will turn to how quickly cars can be charged. India’s former minister of new and renewable energy has advocated for swapping of batteries at charging stations, rather than recharging, to reduce time at the pump. If that comes to fruition, I suppose we could call it a trading post?

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: Electric vehicle market charging ahead

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 5, 2018.


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

Electric vehicle market charging ahead

Two million and counting. This was the title of the 2017 Electric Vehicle Outlook report by the International Energy Agency.

The market for electric vehicles continues to gain ground, although relatively speaking, it remains a small percentage of all U.S. auto sales. Still, every major car manufacturer has electrification plans, meaning their vehicles will operate using some amount of electric power.

Certain companies like Volvo are even vowing to cease building solely internal combustion engine vehicles. That is, the company does and will continue building hybrids, which by definition contain both gas and electric components. But like its competitors, Volvo will shift focus to all-electric vehicles, as sales for hybrids have declined, and EVs have become more ecological and economical.

The industry has evolved from the Prius-style gasoline-electric hybrid, to plug-in hybrids, to fully electric vehicles, sometimes called battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen cell vehicles. Toyota introduced the Prius to the U.S. in 2001 and still holds about 80 percent of the hybrid market.

If current trends continue, many predict this gasoline-electric-style hybrid will be obsolete before the combustion engine. Several causes support this notion. The shale revolution resulted in an influx of American oil and gas. An abundance of oil has made gas prices lower than 10 years ago when they peaked at $4.11 and the U.S. was primarily an importer of oil. This means consumers are at least slightly less concerned about gas prices, making a hybrid less appealing.

Next, an abundance of natural gas helped stabilize electricity prices, and making it more financially feasible to use electricity to charge a vehicle. Plus, the technology continues improving – batteries hold a charge longer and recharge quicker than ever. So, depending on consumer predilection, be it to save money on gas, to save the environment, or, simply to own the latest automobile technology, choices will likely include a battery electric vehicle or a gas vehicle, or, eventually as more fueling infrastructure is built, a hydrogen cell vehicle.

The U.S. is not the only country with growth in this industry – last year China led the way in the number of electrified cars on the road. Such a boon for battery electric vehicles will become an opportunity for the electric power sector.

Unlike many developing countries that lack consistent electricity for even basic needs, in the U.S. we enjoy such reliable electric power sources that many of us can elect to recharge electric vehicles overnight while we sleep. Or perhaps even using the electricity harnessed during the day via our rooftop solar panels at our places of work. Either way, the trend helps one imagine a future where your car is a large battery with four wheels that is ebbing and flowing electrons into an energy market and you are paying or being paid as the case may be.

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.

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.

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: When ‘America First’ meets American 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 September 25, 2017.


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

When ‘America First’ meets American solar energy

The plot thickens in the Suniva and SolarWorld case before the International Trade Commission.

On Friday, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that imported solar panels and modules are causing serious injury to U.S. manufacturers, giving the president the final say about tariffs in this high-profile case that could unravel the American solar industry.

Parties on both sides claimed that a vote in favor (or one against) could devastate the rooftop solar industry.

Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act refers to global safeguard investigations and is an infrequently used measure that allows a petition to be filed when domestic manufacturers assert serious injury to their industry due to an influx of foreign imports. After an investigation and finding of injury, the act authorizes the president to intervene.

U.S. solar crystalline silicon photovoltaic manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld have declared that competition from cheap imports is adversely affecting the industry here in America. The companies cite their recent bankruptcy filing and the failure of other solar manufacturers across the country in recent years as their proof.

But the industry’s trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association, also suggests that as many as 88,000 U.S. jobs – many of them solar manufacturers and installers – could be lost if the imported panels face higher tariffs, and thus were to raise the cost to Americans for solar energy. What’s more, while each has a presence in the U.S., Suniva and SolarWorld are both foreign-owned companies arguing for the American market.

So why does it matter? Power generated by solar energy has increased significantly as a viable option due in part to how cheap solar energy is becoming. This fast-moving downward cost trajectory is due to significant improvements in the technologies and also less-expensive, imported panels. It follows naturally that cheaper imports have allowed the installation side of the industry to flourish as the investments make more sense for individuals and companies to install solar on their homes and businesses. If the petitioners are granted the increased tariffs, the cost of solar panels is projected to more than double.

A remedy hearing will be held at which the commission will issue recommendations to the president. The act empowers the president to deal with those recommendations as he sees fit, including the liberty to make them more severe, less so, or not implement them at all. This fact has solar industry stakeholders paying close attention given the president’s repeated threats to increase tariffs on Chinese imports both as a way to improve U.S. manufacturing, and to bolster the coal industry by diminishing renewable energies strong growth in America.

It will be November before we know what the proposed remedy will look like. Stay tuned to see if Chinese solar panels prove to be the “tariff silver platter” the president has been requesting. While punishing cheaper imports may be an “America First” argument for manufacturers, in this instance it appears it could be the opposite effect for American consumers.

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: The great American solar eclipse

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 21, 2017.


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

The great American solar eclipse

As we prepare for the solar eclipse on Monday, here are some facts and ideas I found to be worthwhile.

First, a solar eclipse is when the moon completely obscures the bright light of the sun, revealing its fainter corona. And a fainter corona is not a light beer, just FYI.

While solar eclipses occur once or twice a year somewhere on the planet, what is rare and exciting is “totality.” The diameter of the sun is about 400 times the size of the moon. And on average the sun is about 400 times farther away. As a result of this coincidence, we get spectacular, and very coincidental solar eclipses.

Since the sun is a perpetual series of thermonuclear explosions, definitely heed the warnings not to look directly at it. Hence the reason for UV-blocking solar glasses or if you have them, welding goggles. Although it will be darker before, during and immediately after the eclipse, it is still not safe to look at the sun directly or with a telescope.

There are safe glasses available in stores or online, but be careful because there are reports of some inferior or fake glasses being sold places too. Amazon discovered that many being sold on its site were not certified. As such, Amazon sent warning emails and offered refunds to purchasers with no merchandise return necessary. Be sure yours are certified by NASA and the American Astronomical Society.

There is so much information about the eclipse. Forbes’ 5 Things Not to Do During Totality included a reminder to be in the moment and enjoy not just the eclipse, but the rest of the sky, the birds, the darkness, and so on.

While we are enjoying the view, wildlife is known to be confused by the darkness eclipses create – some nocturnal fauna may even emerge mistaking it for nighttime.

Royal Caribbean ran with the comic coincidence idea by booking Bonnie Tyler to sing her famous 1983 song Total Eclipse of the Heart on its Total Eclipse Cruise during the eclipse. The song has been cut down precisely not to exceed the length of the eclipse. Wow, good job Carnival. I bet the song is busy on iTunes too.

Those of us forced to miss Ms. Tyler’s performance and who are not trekking north on Monday can relish this cosmic coincidence at the Myriad Gardens in Oklahoma City – oklahomacitybotanicalgardens.com.

Also, if you are curious to learn more, there are many other places to explore.

But please don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to see a total eclipse of the sun cross the continental United States.

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.