US Renewable Energy Policy: Solar May Not Get Relief From Trump’s Tariffs

The solar industry may not catch the break from U.S. import tariffs that it was counting on next year.

The duties imposed by the Trump administration last year currently stand at 25% and were scheduled to fall to 20% in 2020. But the Washington-based trade group Solar Energy Industries Association warned on Tuesday that the White House may decide to ease up on that cut as part of a review of the tariffs.

“Our fear is that the administration will make them tougher,” the group’s chief executive officer, Abigail Ross Hopper, said on a call with reporters.

The tariffs, first imposed in 2018, have been punishing for much of the U.S. solar industry. While they’ve prompted a handful of manufacturers to open U.S. panel factories, the duties have driven up costs for developers and rooftop installers who employ most of the industry’s workers. If left in place, the duties will cost the industry $19 billion in investment and will lead to 62,000 fewer jobs by 2021, the solar association said in a report Tuesday.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro called the group’s report “fake news dressed up in academic mumbo jumbo.” It warns of “gloom and doom,” he said, when in fact unemployment rates remain low.

Navarro meanwhile described the solar association as a “loose confederation of Chinese solar companies seeking to destroy American solar manufacturing jobs and U.S. solar installers that want cheap Chinese panels and don’t care how many American jobs are destroyed.”

The U.S. International Trade Commission is conducting a midterm review of the solar tariffs, set to expire in 2022. It’s expected to send a report to the president next year. Suniva Inc., a Georgia-based panel maker that first asked Trump to impose tariffs, has already requested that the 5% reductions set for 2020 and 2021 be scaled back.

In response to Navarro’s comment, Solar Energy Industries Association invited him to attend one of its conferences and “meet some of the 240,000 Americans who work in this great industry.” The group said it looks forward to working with the Trump administration on ways to advance “real manufacturing growth without these particularly counterproductive tariffs.”

Key figures from SEIA’s analysis:

  • Solar tariffs are costing the U.S. more than $10.5 million per day in unrealized economic activity
  • Each new job created by the tariff results in 31 additional jobs lost, 5.3 megawatts of solar deployment lost and nearly $9.5 million in lost investment
  • Reduced solar deployment figures will increase emissions equivalent to 5.5 million cars or 7 coal plants

Tariffs on solar are most harshly affecting nascent solar markets including Alabama, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. These markets won’t be able to get off the ground because tariffs make solar uncompetitive.

The Section 201 solar tariffs began at 30% in 2018, and ramped down to 25% in 2019, 20% in 2020 and 15% in 2021.


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