OCC gets ready for public input on wind, solar issues

Paul MoniesThe Oklahoman(MCT)

Oklahomans interested in the placement of wind farms and the upcoming regulation of rooftop solar panel customers will get a chance to weigh in on those issues soon at the Corporation Commission.

Staff for the commission’s public utility division held the second of two pre-meetings Friday for an upcoming notice of inquiry on wind and solar issues. The first meeting on Wednesday involved wind developers, while Friday’s meeting brought in landowners.

Among the issues to be discussed are what kinds of notification landowners near wind farms should get before projects start, as well as how to strengthen Oklahoma’s existing law for the decommissioning of wind farms. Other concerns include the effects on wildlife, property values and the economic benefits of wind farm development.

The notice of inquiry is expected to be filed within the next couple of weeks and will set out a series of technical conferences and public meetings to gather information for the commission. It was requested by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, after several wind-related bills failed to advance in this year’s Legislature.

Brandy Wreath, director of the public utility division, told meeting participants the notice of inquiry is a good venue for deciding which issues are important, but it has limitations. Some issues, such as state tax incentives for wind generation, fall under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

“We’re hoping to take lots of comments, answer questions and fine-tune those questions at the technical conferences,” Wreath said. “The end result will be recommendations to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. This (notice of inquiry) process will not end in rules, it will not end in statutory changes and will not end in cases (filed at the commission.)”

Wreath said it will be up to the commission to propose new rules or the Legislature to change the law once the notice of inquiry ends.

Commission staff added distributed generation issues to the agenda following the passage of Senate Bill 1456, which allows regulated electric utilities to establish a new customer class and rate structure for users with rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines. The law goes into effect Nov. 1, but the commission is required to approve tariff changes for distributed generation customers before the end of 2015.

Wreath said the distributed generation part of the notice of inquiry will help regulators at the Corporation Commission decide what utilities should include in their applications for new tariffs for rooftop solar or small wind turbine users.

Meanwhile, SB 1456 has been targeted for repeal by a group of Oklahoma residents who are gathering signatures for a referendum initiative they want to go before voters in November. They need at least 51,739 signatures of registered voters by Oct. 7 to get on the ballot, although election officials are required by state and federal law to get ballots ready for overseas military voters at least 45 days before the election.