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Solar Energy Advocates Say The Industry Could Help Schools

Oklahoma rivals sun-baked Nevada in its potential to harvest power from the sun, but while Nevada ranks first among states in solar development Oklahoma ranks 46th, lawmakers were told Monday.
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Oklahoma rivals sun-baked Nevada in its potential to harvest power from the sun, but while Nevada ranks first among states in solar development Oklahoma ranks 46th, lawmakers were told Monday.

An Oklahoma Senate committee recently held a study session regarding Oklahoma's solar energy potential. Former school officials attended to advocate for expanding the industry, which could help lower utility costs and free up resources for classroom materials. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses how solar energy helped a Purcell middle school and the new rules for compensating solar energy customers.



 KGOU's Drew Hutchinson speaks with Journal Record editor Russell Ray.

Full transcript: 


Drew Hutchinson:You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson, and as always, joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. The Business Intelligence report has covered previously how Oklahoma has high potential for solar energy, but ranks low in actually realizing that potential. I wanted to give an update on that today. Journal Record reporter Steve Metzer wrote an article last week about how the Oklahoma Senate Energy Committee gathered for an interim study session on the topic. Some industry professionals want more investments in solar energy, but so do some school officials. 

Ray: That’s right.The study was requested by state Sen. Mary Boren, who said school districts might benefit from using power generated from the sun. State Secretary of Energy and Environment Kenneth Wagner also said it makes sense for the state to increase efforts to develop solar resources for power generation. He agreed with Boren that schools stand to save a lot of money by harnessing the sun for energy.

Hutchinson:At the session, lawmakers heard from the former superintendent of Purcell schools, Jason Midkiff. He’s now with the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. He told the group about new solar power investments at a Purcell middle school. It required a $380,000 commitment, but it could save the district about $30,000 a year in utilities.

Ray: That’s right. That’s one of the big benefits of solar projects. They pay for themselves rather quickly.  The savings in energy costs can go into the millions of dollars over time, which would free up funding for classroom resources. In fact, one school district in Missouri expects to save $3 million on utility bills over 30 years thanks to its investment in solar power. 

Hutchinson:And there are lots of ways to save energy if not by solar power. Lawmakers heard from Jerry Privett, the energy conservation administrator for Norman Public Schools. That school district has invested in more efficient heating and cooling systems, but Privett said the district has saved a lot of money by simply remembering to turn off lights and not run air conditioning when it isn’t needed. 

Ray: Well yes. In the power generation market, efficiency is the key objective here. And Norman Public Schools has been able to reinvest about $2.8 million back into the district because of its efforts to be more energy efficient.

Hutchinson:Let’s talk a little bit on the background of this issue. Oklahoma has been struggling to realize its solar potential for years. 

Ray: That’s right. One report recently ranked Oklahoma No. 6 in the greatest potential for solar power generation. However, the state ranked No. 43 among all 50 states in new solar installations.State lawmakers want to change that and are currently evaluating the rules governing how the state compensates customers for solar power.


Hutchinson:And this is partly due to confusion on how to bill solar customers. As we saw in a recent article by Journal Record reporter Daisy Creager, cities like Edmond don’t have a pricing mechanism for this type of energy and don’t know how to integrate it into the electric utility service, and the city doesn’t allow it for commercial or residential properties. 

Ray: Well that’s part of the issue. The main issue, however, is how utilities compensate customers for generating surplus supplies of solar power. In the past, there were no rules in place requiring utilities to pay customers for excess supplies. The rules have since changed. Now, customers must be compensated for their excess generation, and the Corporation Commission working with utilities to develop the terms and conditions. 

Hutchinson:Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record.KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Drew Hutchinson.

 The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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Drew Hutchinson
Russell Ray