In a setback for the renewable energy movement, the state House in Oklahoma this week passed a bill that would levy a new fee on those who generate their own energy through solar equipment or wind turbines on their property. The measure, which sailed to passage on a near unanimous vote after no debate, is likely to be signed into law by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin.
The bill, known as S.B. 1456, will specifically target those who install power generation systems on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. However, those who already have such renewable systems installed will not be affected.
Still, it’s the new customers who will rapidly make up the majority, even in a traditional oil-and-gas powerhouse like Oklahoma. That’s because the cost of solar power systems has been drastically falling for the last five years. Solar installations worldwide are going to shoot up to an estimated 45 gigawatts in 2014, a new record, and are projected to grow even more in coming years as solar prices fall further and fossil fuel extraction gets harder and more expensive.
Now, utility firms in Oklahoma say they just want to be compensated for use of their infrastructure. But renewable energy fed back into the grid is ultimately doing utility companies a service. Solar generates in the daytime, when demand for electricity is highest, thereby alleviating pressure during peak demand.
That there is a pushback should not come as a shock. Technological innovations are often resisted by those who have a stake in the old system, and energy companies are deeply invested in fossil fuels and nuclear power. While some old energy companies — such as BP and ExxonMobil — are investing in fast-growing renewables as a hedge against their current business model going the way of the dinosaurs, it’s hardly surprising that many are quietly demanding legislation to make renewables less competitive.
But giving into this pressure is a really bad idea. Renewable energy isn’t just any new technology — it is, as the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argues, our best and possibly only hope to mitigate dangerous climatic changes caused by humans dumping carbon emissions into the atmosphere:
The new IPCC report warns that carbon emissions have soared in the last decade and are now growing at almost double the previous rate. But its comprehensive analysis found rapid action can still limit global warming to 2°C, the internationally agreed safe limit, if low-carbon energy triples or quadruples by 2050. [The Guardian]
The answer? Renewable energy:
Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable. "It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet," said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team. [The Guardian]
Renewable energy already has a mountain to climb. Many complain about President Obama’s modest subsidies for renewable energy, but on a global scale fossil fuels receive ten times the subsidies that renewable energy enjoys. That makes it more difficult for renewable energy to compete in terms of cost. Even though renewables have some inherent advantages — namely, that they’re renewable, whereas fossil fuels are finite — it’s an uphill battle.
And every dollar of taxes on solar and wind makes the goal of a renewable-energy world more distant.