Trump Imposes Tariffs on Imported Solar Panels
January 24, 2018
President Trump has imposed 30% tariffs on solar cells and panels manufactured in other countries, following the recommendation of the United States International Trade Commission (USITC).
When the president signed the action imposing the trade barriers he said, “…our workers are going to have lots of really great jobs with products that are going to be made in the good old USA.”
But Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), said in a statement that the tariffs “will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs.”
The SEIA, which represents about 1,000 solar installers and manufacturers, predicts the tariffs “will result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments.”
The trade barriers come on the heels of explosive growth in solar in the U.S.—an average 68% yearly jump in installed solar capacity in the past decade, according to the SEIA.
The association says most of the jobs in solar manufacturing in the U.S. in 2016 were not producing cells or panels, which is the target of the tariffs. Instead they made inverters, racking systems, and solar trackers.
The trade case was brought by solar manufacturers Suniva Inc. and SolarWorld Americas, Inc., which filed a petition last May with USITC claiming the large volume of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) cells and modules that are imported into the U.S. are damaging the domestic PV manufacturing industry. The petition asked for tariffs on solar cells and a minimum price for solar panels. It did not include thin-film solar panels.
Suniva, which was based in Atlanta and was a subsidiary of the Chinese company Shunfeng International Clean Energy Limited, filed for bankruptcy in April 2017. SolarWorld, the largest crystalline-silicon solar panel manufacturer in the U.S., laid off more than 300 employees in July 2017 after its German-owned parent company, SolarWorld AG, filed for the German equivalent of bankruptcy.
The SEIA, in its recommendations to President Trump in December 2017, pointed out that the two petitioners for trade barriers were foreign-owned. “Don’t bail out failed foreign firms at the expense of American workers,” the association wrote.
Juergen Stein, CEO and President of SolarWorld Americas Inc. reacted to the tariffs with this statement: “We are still reviewing these remedies and are hopeful they will be enough to address the import surge and to rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States.”
Trump’s tariffs aren’t as tough as what the two solar manufacturing companies had wanted, but they are still stringent enough to impact the domestic solar industry.
The tariffs on solar cells and modules start at 30% in the first year and fall to 15% four years later. 2.5 gigawatts (GW) of imported cells won’t be subject to a tariff each year.
In an August 2017 letter to the USITC, 27 solar companies in the U.S. opposed new tariffs, stating that “solar must remain competitive on price” in order to compete with other sources of electricity. The National Electrical Contractors Association also fought the proposed trade barriers, saying they would “double the price of solar panels and stop solar growth dead in its tracks.”
A bipartisan group of governors from Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, and Massachusetts also wrote the president before he imposed the tariffs, arguing against them. “At a time when our citizens are demanding more clean energy,” the governors wrote to the USITC, “the tariff would cause America to lose 47 gigawatts of solar installations….”
As a result of the tariffs, China could ask the World Trade Organization to intervene and arbitrate on its behalf.
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