Solar Industry Expands As Trump Considers Slapping Tariffs On Panel Makers

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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An unreleased White House document indicates the Trump administration is seriously considering slapping potentially debilitating trade tariffs on foreign solar panel products, according to a report Friday from Politico.

Activists, solar panel companies, and free market groups worry such tariffs could seriously hurt the industry. President Donald Trump, a supporter of protectionist polities, is preparing to render a verdict in January about the need for such policies.

“While solar energy is forecast to play a larger role in the world’s energy mix, other countries stand to benefit significantly more than U.S. workers,” according to a four-page paper that is being circulated for comment within executive branch agencies.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) crafted a series of tariffs or quotas in November that were delivered to Trump. The push comes after two bankrupt solar companies claimed cheap imports are destroying their business – both of which are owned by foreign entities.

Suniva and SolarWorld orchestrated a campaign to enact tariffs on cheap technology from China a week after they filed for bankruptcy. Suniva, which has also received $8.8 million in federal grants in the past, was founded in Georgia but sold to Japan-based International Clean Energy in 2015. It also has access to millions more from the state government and communities in Michigan.

Suniva spokesman Mark Paustenbach believes the approach will help, not hurt, the solar industry.

“Suniva applauds the Trump Administration for championing American manufacturing in the face of cheating by China and its proxies who want to kill American jobs and make America dependent on China for its energy and security needs,” he said in a press statement shortly after the memo was revealed.

Lobbyists for solar producers have a different perspective. U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), for instance, argues cheap solar imports have reduced prices and triggered a boom in sales across the U.S. — tariffs could seriously impact 260,000 solar jobs in the U.S., according to SEIA.

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.

Global solar sectors, “including its supply chain and critical minerals requirements, will grow in importance from an economic and energy security perspective,” the memo notes, citing estimates that the market will expand to $140 billion in 2023 from $65 billion in 2015.

China uses its “monopoly” to punish U.S. industries that are part of the global supply chain, according to the document, which also suggests U.S. producers will benefit once China’s monopoly is undermined.

“Yet questions remain about the scope and extent of those potential benefits, especially in the context of various policy options that, depending on the course chosen could backfire on the U.S. supply chain, while imposing minimal harm on Chinese state-owned enterprises,” the note states.


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