Energy

Oklahoma Goes After Solar Users

The retrograde move here to charge people who send power back to the electrical grid through rooftop solar panels and small wind turbines is part of a coordinated national conservative effort against green energy.

On Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law Senate Bill 1456, which allows the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to set a fixed charge for customers who use their own generated electricity but also are connected to the electrical grid and send power back into the system.

Proponents of the bill say the charge is needed to recover the costs associated with receiving the excess power in the process known as net metering, but it still represents a giant step backward in developing renewable and cleaner energy sources and it’s clearly a response to a conservative pushback against green energy.

The bill was widely criticized. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, for example, recently mocked Oklahoma for several minutes on her show over the bill. (See the above video.) Environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, have also protested the bill and others like it across the country.

A recent story in The Lost Angeles Times outlined the conservative push against solar power:

The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation's largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.

The story also mentions that the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative group, has developed model legislation attacking green energy efforts. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group supported by Charles and David Koch, has also been part of the overall effort, according to the story.

The bottom line is that utility companies need to change their business model rather than turn back the clock on advances in solar power. If the new charges are excessive, then few people will use solar panels on their homes and businesses, and this will not only allow power companies to retain their monopolies but also could stop or slow renewable energy development. The new law also protects the interests of the fossil fuel industry, especially coal producers. That seems to be the point of the conservative effort.

The Oklahoma bill passed on an 83 to 5 vote in the House and a 41 to 0 vote in the Senate. The overwhelming support for the measure shows the influence of national conservative movements on the Republican-dominated legislature and the influence of the traditional and powerful energy lobby here.

It’s a huge step backwards for Oklahoma.

Environmental Lesson

windpower1

If anyone here is still under the illusion that energy companies will always automatically do the right thing when it comes to the environment, look no further than the massive, historic $5.5 billion cleanup settlement arising from actions by Oklahoma’s former Kerr-McGee Corporation.

The settlement was announced last Thursday by the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency. Under the settlement, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum, which purchased Kerr-McGee in 2006, would pay the massive cleanup amount to restore polluted sites dating back to 1928. It’s the largest pollution cleanup settlement ever.

Before Kerr-McGee was sold in 2006, according to the DOJ, it spun off the polluted assets into a company called Tronox and that company was left insolvent and couldn’t afford the cleanup. One U.S. Attorney called it a “corporate shell game,” designed to evade responsibility for the pollution, which includes uranium mines in New Mexico and Arizona.

Kerr-McGee was also the focus of legal and media scrutiny after state resident Karen Silkwood died in 1974. Silkwood worked at Kerr-McGee’s Cimarron Fuel Fabrication site near Crescent. Silkwood, a labor union activist, was allegedly contaminated by the plutonium manufactured at the plant. She died in a mysterious car accident, and a movie starring Meryl Streep and Cher about her life was released in 1983.

Kerr-McGee, once located in downtown Oklahoma City, was lauded in this brainwashing newspaper article published in The Oklahoman in 1999. The article, which never mentions the Silkwood saga or the company’s pollution legacy, begins, “World-class, generous, involved, leaders, company with a heart - words used by Oklahoma City officials and citizens to describe one of their most respected neighbors, Kerr-McGee Corp.” A few years later after this glowing tribute, the “world-class” company was sold to Anadarko, based in Texas.

A larger lesson here is that the Kerr-McGee case gives us every reason to reasonably suspect that energy companies are quite capable of doing massive harm to the environment while trying to evade responsibility for it. That suspicion is why we need strict state and federal regulations governing their operations and an intense focus on developing cleaner, renewable energy sources.

The anti-EPA sentiment in this state, fueled by conservative political dogma and The Oklahoman, is widely misplaced and a major historical error.

Oklahoma is currently experiencing a boom in natural gas production because of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a drilling process tied to water pollution and now earthquakes. Does the $5.5 billion settlement send a clear enough message to oil and gas companies here or will history repeat itself once again?

The Usual Drill

Image of T.W. Shannon

Let’s be clear that House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s insistence the state continue to give costly taxpayer handouts to the oil and gas industry as the state faces budget constraints could have a major detrimental effect on the overall quality of life here.

Education funding has declined to what can only be perceived as catastrophic levels since 2008. The state’s prisons are dangerously understaffed. Many state workers have gone without raises for seven years. There are myriad of mental health initiatives that need to be implemented on the state level.

But Shannon, a Lawton Republican, wants to make permanent $175 million in tax breaks for horizontal oil and gas drilling. The tax credits are set to expire in 2015. According to the Tulsa World, Shannon recently said, “Some have suggested we should raise this tax or allow it to expire in order to bring more money into the general fund and grow government. I don't believe in the tax-more, spend-more approach.”

This type of conservative reasoning defies logic primarily because it’s merely an ideological statement and sloganeering. But it also ignores a basic reality: Oil and gas companies will drill here no matter what. That’s a given, and when there’s no more fossil fuels to suck out of the ground in Oklahoma, these companies will leave the state and never return, leaving only earthquakes and environmental damage in their wake.

Of course, Shannon has other motivations to argue his case. Oil and gas interests, including the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and Chesapeake Energy, have been major contributors to his campaign funding. Shannon is up for reelection this year.

Meanwhile, Shannon will continue to push for income tax cuts next session, according to media reports, even though revenue predictions are not getting met on a monthly basis. The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently threw out last year’s tax cut bill because it violated the state’s constitutional single-subject rule for legislation.

Tax breaks for oil and gas companies along with stagnant or lowered funding for education. This conservative model of governance ultimately only creates more socioeconomic problems for the state. It’s really a no-brainer.

Under Republican dominance, Oklahoma has quickly become a shining example of failed conservative ideology. Despite some state leaders’ rosy rhetoric about the state’s economic development, Oklahoma faces chronic problems in many areas, precipitated by underfunding for education, health issues and corrections. Costly and unneeded tax breaks for oil and gas companies only make it worse.

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