Tariff Won’t Stop U.S. Solar Industry

CodeWatcher solar 2018 IECC

Mixed reaction to solar tariff with many agreeing it is merely a speed bump to PV adoption in the United States.

In late January, the White House announced a 30% year-one tariff on imported solar cells and modules, and the tariffs will decline over a four-year period. The first 2.5 gigawatts of imported cells are excluded from the additional tariff in each of those four years. The compete stipulations of the tariff can be read in this U.S. Trade Representative document, starting near the bottom of page 2.

Reaction to the announcement was mixed. U.S.-based solar PV manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld Americas had filed a petition in May 2017 under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, arguing that increased imports had caused serious injury to the domestic solar PV manufacturing industry. Predictably, the president of SolarWorld Americas was grateful for the decision and pledged to work with the government to “ensure that U.S. solar manufacturing is world-class competitive for the long term.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) took the opposite stance. They said the decision “will cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs” in 2018, and they expect it to trigger the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments. “While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hardworking, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO.1 Clark Packard, a policy lawyer for a DC-based think tank, used more forceful language than the SEIA.

Related Story: “Trump Slaps Tariffs on Solar Cells: Is the U.S. Industry Doomed?’ 

“The petitioners in this case – both bankrupt firms that are majority foreign-owned – employ about 1,000 Americans, while the rest of the domestic industry employs more than 260,000 Americans up the entire value chain. More good-paying jobs will be jeopardized by (this) decision than could possibly be saved by bailing out the bankrupt companies that petitioned for protection.”

Others had a more measured approach. Tony Clifford, chief development officer at Standard Solar, said the tariff decision will not stop the U.S. solar industry. “The solar industry has come through worse policy decisions and will come through this one, too,” Clifford said. “The solar century is here, and not even unfair tariffs will stand in its way.”

According to a solar PV installer we spoke with recently, they had been hedging their bets by stockpiling solar panels in anticipation of this decision. While it was an admittedly short-term solution, they were doing what they could to soften the blow for their future customers.

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