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OG&E and PSO seek to establish new compensation rates for customers’ solar power

This guest column was originally published in The Journal Record on Sept. 9, 2019.


Eric Davis

Eric Davis is an attorney in the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group and the Government Relations and Compliance Practice Group. He represents clients in a range of regulatory and energy matters.

By Phillips Murrah Attorney C. Eric Davis

Homeowners and businesses interested in utilizing rooftop solar panels to produce their own power should take note. Cases were filed Aug. 19 and Sept. 4 at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission that will determine how Oklahoma’s two largest electric utilities compensate customers for self-produced solar power.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma filed the cases in response to new commission rules. The rules provide that customers who produce surplus electricity that is fed back onto the grid must be compensated, a standard practice in many states across the country. This is a departure from previous rules, which contemplated customers’ ability to offset their own energy usage with self-produced power, but any excess power was treated as a donation to the utility, which then could resell it without paying the homeowner.

As a result of the rule changes, OG&E and PSO are proposing to overhaul the terms and conditions applicable to customers who produce their own power. Among other things, the utilities propose paying for customers’ power based on the wholesale cost the utility would have paid in the market – a cost several cents lower per kilowatt-hour than retail rates.

In determining rates, the commission will consider whether solar customers are paying their fair share to maintain the utility’s grid that continues to support them.

Meanwhile, the commission may consider whether rooftop solar customers are fairly compensated for the value their energy offers to the grid. For example, as customers’ self-produced power reduces overall power demand, utilities will realize cost savings as their power plants operate less, and the need to build new, costly power plants is delayed or even avoided. Moreover, reductions in power demand will reduce the utility’s need for expensive upgrades to power lines, and less electricity is lost in long-distance transmission. These infrastructure-related savings would result in lower rates for all customers.

The commission’s ultimate determination regarding rates applicable to rooftop solar customers will impact whether it makes financial sense for customers to adopt solar to begin with. The issue is notable in Oklahoma, given the state is consistently ranked in the bottom 10 (approx. 46th) in the country in terms of solar energy production, yet it is ranked in the top 10 (approx. 6th) in terms of solar energy potential.

Recognizing this deficit, interim studies are scheduled this fall at the Capitol to explore how Oklahoma can improve its standing in solar production. Benefits of increased solar production include energy diversification, new job opportunities, improved grid resiliency, water conservation, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. With industry projections calling for strong growth of rooftop solar installations nationwide, OG&E’s and PSO’s cases at the commission will impact the extent of that growth, or the risk of zero growth, in Oklahoma.

Those interested in these cases can participate in a number of ways, ranging from emailing comments to the commission, to formally intervening as a party. Formal parties have the right to issue discovery, present witnesses and cross-examine witnesses of other parties, including the utility’s witnesses. By intervening, parties optimize their ability to influence the utilities’ policies and terms of service.

Oklahoma’s solar opportunity is unlike any other form of energy. If the sun shines on your home, farm, or business, you have an opportunity to harness that energy for your own usage. Whether customers are paid fairly for what they share with the grid will affect the technology’s adoption in the future.

C. Eric Davis is an attorney with Phillips Murrah.

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: 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: 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.

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

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

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

Read Roth’s comments from the article below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article from the Duncan Banner.

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: 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: 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.

Director Jim Roth sourced in article on Oklahoma’s solar energy potential

Jim A. Roth, Phillips Murrah

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

Jim Roth, Phillips Murrah Director and Chair of the Firm’s Clean Energy Practice, was quoted in an Oklahoma Gazette article by Laura Eastes regarding solar energy technology and Oklahoma’s potential as a leader in the solar industry.

Read Roth’s comments from the article below:

Row after row of solar panels, which rest perfectly aligned and angled to the west, fill an open field along NW 10th Street in western Oklahoma City. When OG&E’s 2.5-megawatt solar farm began harvesting energy from the sun less than two years ago, the company hawked the farm’s ability to power a one-stop-sign town.

As the sleek metal of the solar panels glistens in the blazing sun, the electric utility company’s aging natural gas plant stands in the background. When it comes to power stations, natural gas is king in Oklahoma, but indicators show solar has a bright and rising future.

“There is a tremendous amount of energy hitting the surface every day and we haven’t yet developed measures to capture it,” said Jim Roth, a director and chairman of Phillips Murrah law firm’s Clean Energy Practice Group and a former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner. Roth represents solar and wind energy developers for the Oklahoma City business law firm.

“The technology is catching up,” he said. “Oklahoma is uniquely situated in that the best sun penetration happens at the time of day which is the most expensive time in the market. We not only have a lot of opportunity for local use, but we also have the ability to export at the height of the market each day.”

Across Oklahoma’s western border and into the Texas Panhandle are hints of a solar boom. Roth said the major Texas projects foreshadow Oklahoma’s future.

Within Oklahoma, solar energy has caught the attention of utility companies. It’s not limited to the OG&E solar farm in OKC. Public Services Company of Oklahoma’s (PSO), which services areas around Tulsa, McAlester and Lawton, recent long-term plan calls for the addition of solar resources. Additionally, rural electric cooperatives are diving into small-scale solar farms.

“The reality is the technology is there and solar is being implemented all around the country,” Roth said. “I really believe this is our greatest potential — we have such blessings with clean natural gas underground, such blessings with world-class wind and with solar opportunity. Few states, if any, have the trifecta. … Oklahoma is actually perfectly situated for the future which is unfolding.

Read the full article from the Oklahoma Gazette.