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Groups Protest OG&E's Proposed Solar Tariffs

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Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma
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Bruce Prescott, Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, speaks at a protest at Corporation Commission Tuesday.

Several environmental and pro-solar energy groups on Tuesday protested a proposal by the state's largest electric utility to impose new charges on customers who generate their own electricity by using solar power.

About three dozen people demonstrated outside the Jim Thorpe Building in Oklahoma City during a break in testimony before an Oklahoma Corporation Commission judge about the new "distributive tariffs" that Oklahoma Gas & Electric wants to impose on customers who install solar panels.

Currently, only about 217 of OG&E's roughly 740,000 customers have installed solar panels, and those customers, mostly residential, pay for electricity at night or on cloudy days when the panels don't produce enough power. OG&E is seeking permission to impose new tariffs, including an $18 monthly charge, for those residential customers.

"We're really talking about double billing anyone who puts solar panels on their house," said Bruce Prescott, an opponent of the new tariffs.

But OG&E spokesman Randy Swanson said the company's goal is to ensure that regular customers aren't subsidizing those who use solar power.

"What we're talking about here is making sure everybody that's connected to the grid pays for their share of the grid," Swanson said. "If you're on the grid, there's a cost to that - trucks, lines, substations, people, buildings."

The new tariffs were authorized under a bill approved by the Legislature in 2014 and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Once testimony in the case is concluded, OCC Judge Jacqueline Miller will make a recommendation to the three-member commission, which will make a final determination. A final decision could be weeks or even months away.

The Oklahoma attorney general's public utility unit has urged the commission to reject the new tariffs. In a position statement presented in the case, Assistant Attorney General Dara Derryberry maintains OG&E has not provided a cost-of-service study in support of the tariffs and has provided no evidence that customers who use solar power are being subsidized by regular customers.

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