Energy industry wants to brighten solar market
July 23, 2017
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Energy business owners, industry observers and environmentalists said they're optimistic an interim study will help advance an underused resource in the state.
The legislative request to examine the economic benefit of solar power was approved July 7. State Reps. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City; Claudia Griffith, D-Norman; Ben Loring, D-Bartlesville; and Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, proposed analyzing potential job growth from solar power and what's preventing its development. The request also proposes examining how solar power is connected to the grid and studying existing state rules for consumers who resell surplus electricity to a utility, known as net metering.
Steve Wilke, business development manager of solar photovoltaic panel installation company Delta Energy + Design, said the study is an important first step to presenting to the Legislature and to regulators a clear picture of the solar market's potential. That will help both bodies make more informed decisions. The interim study presents both an opportunity and a challenge.
"The question is whether or not it will go anywhere, and who decides what is important," Wilke said.
He said his biggest concern is that utility companies dominate the conversation on proposed changes to the solar photovoltaic market.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Brian Alford said the interim study didn't have much detail yet, but he said the company's employees are always interested in having an opportunity to share what they've learned about the company's solar pilot project. OG&E installed 2.5 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels near the Mustang power plant in 2015.
"With each passing day, we're learning more about solar," Alford said. "We're looking forward to announcing a new project very soon."
Sierra Club Oklahoma Director Johnson Bridgwater said net metering rules favor utilities and create disincentives for consumers interested in adding rooftop solar. Another rule that prevents more solar adoption is a ban on third parties leasing space for panels.
The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/2tHIdRd) reports that in San Antonio, third-party solar rooftop leasing allowed the industry to expand. There is as much solar-generated electricity in poor neighborhoods as in rich neighborhoods, Bridgwater said. Homeowners can either get paid for leasing their roof or get discounted electricity bills.
Oklahoma ranks 47th in the nation for solar power, according to trade group Solar Energy Industries Association. But the state has enough sun to be sixth in the nation, Bridgwater said.
Jim Roth, clean energy practice group director at Phillips Murrah, said Oklahoma has enough solar radiation to export electricity to other states in the region. Projections for the Panhandle and western Oklahoma show the state is as lucrative as the southwestern U.S. The Sooner State gets the best sun in the early afternoon, so with battery storage, that could help support peak summer electricity demand.
The interim study is important, despite an unfortunate negative year for renewable energy at the Capitol, Roth said. He previously represented the solar industry at Oklahoma Corporation Commission proceedings.
The state's solar potential could be a boon to both the private and public sectors, if some rules were changed.
"I'd like to see Oklahoma schools become solar arrays, so they're earning money to export to the grid," he said. "Other public sector spaces like cities and hospitals could bring energy to the market."
Roth said he's optimistic that the interim study and the work Energy and Environment Secretary Michael Teague is doing to understand so-called distributed generation will help move the industry forward.
"The collaborative conversations will lead Oklahoma to figure out what the potential is," Roth said. "This is all positive momentum."
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, authorized the study, but before it can advance, he must schedule it.
Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com