Oklahoma Solar Tax Doesn’t Exist (Yet)

There seems to be confusion about the controversial Oklahoma solar tax, but the fact is it doesn’t exist. Yet.

It’s little consolation for a solar sector exploding on Wall Street and Main Street alike, as share prices and zero-down solar installations skyrocket. Neither street wants Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin throwing a wrench into their cleantech machine by making distributed generation not some future vision but a present reality. Yet when Fallin signed Senate Bill 1456 into law this month, then amended it with a more authoritative executive order, phrases like “requiring electric suppliers to bring a tariff application…” suddenly became unhinged from “to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to determine the appropriate way to account for the infrastructure cost of distributed generation” — and a minor solar controversy was born.

“This stuff is complicated but getting a lot of attention,” The Alliance for Solar Choice spokesperson Susan Glick told me by phone. “The bill itself does not mandate a fee. It allows it as an option, but there are a host of other options that could be used. If anything, it requires an evaluation of distributed solar.”

Of course, parsing senate bills and executive orders are the skill sets that keep on giving. From boardrooms to courts to markets to your own roofs, the battle for solar power is pervasive and persuasive. When I press Glick that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s mandate for energy matrix evaluation is buried near the end of Governor Falin’s executive order, while her requirement for tariff applications plops right down in the first sentence, she focuses on the positive. After all, going positive is how solar has been winning its repeated battles against dinosaur utilities and fuels. The solar and wind sectors have been soaring into the green beyond while dead energies have been sinking into the red.

It was Fallin, Republican governor of a so-called red state, that advised Oklahomans to pray for rain during a biblical drought — one that’s nothing compared to those on the way, if the IPCC is to be taken seriously. (Please take the IPCC seriously.) Fallin’s transition team to the governorship was reportedly chaired by Devon Energy CEO Larry Nichols, whose so-called natural gas and oil interests absolutely coincide with the regulatory interests of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Which is now being required, by Fallin, to provide clear detail a possible solar tax, or something.

It’s also worth noting that Fallin appointed Patrice Douglas to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to replace Jeff Cloud, who left for Continental Resources, Inc. (“America’s oil champion,” its site proclaims.)

Left-leaning cable news pundit Rachel Maddow took Fallin and Oklahoma’s solar stance to task last week for a new “sun tax” that would punish solar homeowners. But Oklahoma’s energy regulators pushed back quickly on that claim.

“What we credit them for energy they generate greatly exceeds the value of that energy,” Public Service Company of Oklahoma utility spokesman Stan Whitehouse told Politifact, which tried to take Rachel Maddow’s condemnation of Fallin down a peg. But even the controversial Politifact admitted in its final analysis that “the practical effect of the bill for future solar and wind customers is unclear.”

Given these lame ambiguities, it’s hard to fault Maddow or The Week — which called solar taxes “the world’s dumbest idea” — or other concerned parties now paying attention, as Glick said. The green devil is in the details, and no one knows what they are. But they know how to read the first sentence of Fallin’s executive order.

“I think the phrase ‘tariff application’ is misleading,” Glick said. “What the order requires is an evaluation.The larger point here is that conservative support for solar is so strong that the governor issued an executive order to support distributed generation. The final version of the bill does not require tariffs. There are a whole host of directions the commission could take as a result.”

“In every poll that I’ve seen across the country, conservatives support solar,” she added, naming Utah, Kansas, Colorado, Louisiana and Arizona — home base for First Solar, a sunshine market powerhouse. “I cite those because for the past 18 months utilities have lost their attacks on rooftop solar there and elsewhere.”

Whatever the details, The Alliance for Solar Choice and VoteSolar — and many others worried about states taxing citizens for installing their own solar and wind systems — will be closely watching the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s chess. Punishing early adopters of alternative energy for cleanly generating and distributing power to the people’s grid is decidedly not a way to stand out from dinosaurs, which are known mostly for their sudden extinction. “It’s a process, but we’ll definitely be engaged in it,” Glick told me. VoteSolar pointed me to Annie Lappé’s post, which promised the organization would “be engaged in Oklahoma to make sure implementation of this bill follows the sound guidance laid out by Governor Fallin.”

Why does everyone seem to have their fingers crossed?

This article appeared at Solar Energy