OKLAHOMA CITY -- A state senator wants to probe the feasibility of using solar energy to power schools in an effort to reduce utility costs.

State Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, said she recently attended a presentation that highlighted the cost-savings for school districts that switch to solar energy.

Purcell Public Schools, for instance, has installed solar panels on its new middle school, Boren said.

"By decreasing their utility costs, it's investing more money back into the classroom," she said.

She said the annual potential savings for Oklahoma districts could range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions for the biggest districts.

"With educating lawmakers, my hope is that they'll be more prepared to make the decisions with our regulations and laws so that solar can be more available to schools," she said.

Boren hopes her interim study will also probe whether districts face any statutory barriers in switching to solar.

"All of it is a big fuzzy mess right now figuring out where the barriers are," Boren said.

Sarah Terry-Cobo, a spokeswoman with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said utilities regulated by the state agency cannot block the installation of solar panels that meet safety requirements to connect to the power grid. The agency regulates the two largest public utility companies -- Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. and the Public Service Company of Oklahoma -- along with some cooperative companies.

Nonregulated utility companies, like municipalities, set their own solar policies, she said.

Utility companies are permitted to charge solar customers separate tariffs to ensure one consumer class isn't subsidizing another, she said.

"There's nothing today to prevent a school from adding rooftop solar," said Brian Alford, a spokesman for OG&E. "You have to look at the cost versus the benefit. Solar is still an expensive proposition. It's costly to install on rooftops."

He said installation costs depend on the scale, but it's unlikely OG&E consumers would save because of the company's low rates.

He said the company fields questions from time-to-time, but he isn't aware of any districts powered by OG&E that currently have solar installations.

"Schools have an interesting dilemma in that the months they benefit the most from solar, they're actually closed," Alford said.

Still Alford said the utility company would look forward to participating in Boren's study at the Capitol later this year.

As of Wednesday, it hadn't been scheduled yet.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI, reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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