Norman Senator pushes for changes to boost solar industry in Oklahoma

When the Oklahoma legislature convenes next month, it will have several solar-power related bills to consider. It’s a sign of the growing interest in attracting solar energy firms to the state.

As OK Energy Today recently reported, former Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth told an interim study he believes Oklahoma has vast potential to become the 6th strongest state when it comes to solar power. Some small solar farms and roof-top solar operations exist in the state, but none like those in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

Norman State Sen. Mary Boren says before that can happen, the state must do something about putting a value on electrical rates.

“Without uniform rates, we can’t do some of the projects,” she told OK Energy Today. “Electrical bills aren’t all that transparent.”

She is the author of some bills related to solar energy including some that were filed in the 2019 legislative session, bills that did not even get a committee hearing.

SB 526 would require the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to promulgate rules related to energy.

“There must be rate transparency,” added Sen.Boren. “We’re concerned about the economic opportunities of solar and without modernizing our rates, companies can’t even make a business plan. Right now, Oklahoma is one of the most underperforming states in the solar industry.”

Boren says there is a growing demand for solar power in Oklahoma but without the necessary rules and laws in place, the industry won’t grow.

“These bills are laying the foundation, then the businesses can come in,” she explained.

As for opposition to the growth of solar power, “Yes, there is some. It’s like swimming upstream.”

Boren’s a Democrat and a supporter of more sustainable and renewable energy by 2030. But she suggests the Republicans who control the legislature aren’t as eager.

“I believe they haven’t figured out a way to do more because their bread is buttered by a particular industry,” said Boren, without referring to oil and gas.

To change attitudes, she said the state must put a value on energy.

“Oklahoma has a bad attitude that it can be isolated. But the existing regulatory barriers increase the risk” for those wanting to expand solar power businesses in the state.

“At least these bills will get the conversation started.”

Boren’s not the only legislator pushing solar bills. Tulsa Rep. Denise Brewer, a Democrat from House District 71 has also filed a handful of solar bills. One would amend the definition of public utilities and add solar power. She has also filed the Oklahoma Solar Energy Act of 2020.

Rep. Brewer did not respond to OK Energy Today’s request for an interview about her solar bills.