It “levels the playing field,” utility saysThe debate had a familiar ring; a utility spokesman argued the surcharge would prevent customers without solar or wind systems from subsidizing those who do.“It levels the playing field where one customer was subsidizing another,” a spokesman for one utility told The Oklahoman. “This neither unfairly advantages or disadvantages a class of customers.”This is essentially the same argument that utilities around the country have made as distributed energy grows more common and customers buy less electricity.Arizona regulators approved a surcharge of 70 cents per kilowatt of capacity that took effect at the start of the year, and Maine’s largest electric utility, Central Maine Power Company, also has proposed a surcharge. That plan is still under review by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.But in Vermont, the state legislature recently passed a measure that will allow more homeowners to get paid for the electricity they generate on their residential solar and wind systems. And UtilityDive.com reports that utilities around the country have lost as many as ten of these surcharge debates. Oklahoma residents who install small wind turbines or photovoltaic panels will be paying a new surcharge beginning in 2015, thanks to a bill that zipped through the state legislature and was headed to Governor Mary Fallin for a signature. UtilityDive.com called the measure “the first complete defeat for solar advocates” in their efforts to prevent electric utilities from recouping money they claim they’re losing to distributed generation (DG).The bill allows electric utilities to create a new class of ratepayers, those with solar or wind systems, but the amount of the surcharge has yet to be determined by regulators. It is to be in place by the end of next year and will affect only new installations, not those already in place. Nor will it affect customers who get their power from cooperatives that are not regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.There were only five votes against the bill in the House of Representatives and no debate when it passed on April 14. The Senate had already approved it. The Republican governor is expected to sign the bill.In a familiar split, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company and Public Service Company of Oklahoma lined up in favor of the bill while renewable energy advocates and environmentalists opposed it.