Billionaire green energy champion Tom Steyer has been strangely silent about a slew of trade tariffs analysts believe President Donald Trump could potentially level on the solar industry.
Steyer, a Democratic donor liberal with seemingly limitless cash, has spent little time campaigning against an effort to slap beefy tariffs on solar panel products from foreign countries. Analysts believe such protectionist policies could cripple the industry.
Solar companies Suniva and SolarWorld kickstarted a full-throated campaign earlier this year to convince the Trump administration to block cheap solar products from China. They claim cheap imports nearly drove them out of business, while other companies in the industry are balking at the allegation.
Suniva, a company founded in Georgia but sold to Japan-based International Clean Energy in 2015, filed a petition for relief from imports with the International Trade Commission (ITC) about a week after filing for bankruptcy protection. The company’s business model went under, despite receiving $8.8 million in federal grants from 2010 to 2016.
Suniva wants a tariff of 25 cents per watt on solar cells and 32 cents per watt on panels, while also seeking a minimum price on panels of 74 cents per watt, an upcharge that would nearly double current costs. Their campaign has created a counter push from a strange amalgamation or organizations.
Free market groups have called out the proposed tariffs. Think tanks R-Street and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for instance, suggested last month that protectionist policies would render the green energy impotent.
Electric vehicle maker and solar panel producer Tesla also joined a small coalition of solar companies and organizations to campaign against tariffs.
“Although we are currently building the largest solar cell and module manufacturing plant in the US, we still oppose this petition,” a Tesla spokesman told reporters in July. “Tesla is committed to expanding its domestic manufacturing with or without any tariff or price guarantees.”
Suniva and SolarWorld won a major battle in October, when an ITC panel decided in September that the two companies suffered significant injury due to the influx of foreign solar cell and module imports from Asia. The panel will now determine how best to protect them from foreign products that many believe help solar producers gain an edge in a saturated energy market.
The solar industry has grown by leaps and bounds during the past decade, mostly because green energy providers have capitalized on hefty government subsidies and tax credits. Solar prices have declined by more than 50 percent since 2011 as a result and has allowed the industry to add more than 50,000 jobs in 2016.
The turmoil surrounding the issue has not generated much enthusiasm from the likes of Steyer, whose political group NextGen America helped widely promote renewable energy products to ween the U.S. off fossil fuels.
NextGen published a 2016 report prior to the presidential election titled, “Fact Sheet: Powering America With More Than 50 Percent Clean Energy by 2030.” Political candidates must create policies that will help the U.S. transition to 50 percent carbon-free energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050, according to the report.
Steyer’s money accounts for nearly 100 percent of the group’s entire political war chest, a number totaling more than $7 million. But none of the green billionaire’s money has gone to opposing Suniva and SolarWorld’s protectionist gambit.
Steyer has instead gone on a multi-million dollar crusade to persuade Democratic lawmakers to impeach Trump. He plopped down $20 million on ads in California and D.C. for impeachment. Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, call the advertisements a major distraction for those hoping to win elections in 2018 and 2020.
“I certainly don’t think that that’s a helpful effort,” California Democratic Rep. Khanna said in October of the former hedge fund manager’s belligerent anti-Trumpism. His comments reflect House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s strategy, which is to steer clear of Trump’s trolling while positioning Democrats as the “no drama” party.
NextGen has not responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s repeated requests for comments about Steyer’s position on the solar tariff debacle.
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