Tariffs And Tax Cuts Actually Helping Solar Industry — Trump Critics Stumped

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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To the bewilderment of many critics, tariffs and sweeping tax cuts enacted under President Donald Trump’s administration appear to be boosting growth in the U.S. solar industry.

First Solar plans to build a 1.2 gigawatt module facility close to its existing plant in Perrysburg, Ohio, the company revealed Friday in a major announcement. First Solar, a U.S. manufacturer of solar panels, expects to finish construction of the facility by 2020, making a $400 million investment in the area and adding 500 new jobs to the economy. The move will “further solidify our position as the largest U.S. solar module manufacturer,” CEO Mark Widmar said, during the company’s first quarter earnings call.

The news came only about a week after SunPower, another U.S manufacturer of solar panels, announced it was acquiring German-owned SolarWorld Americas. SunPower will be investing capital into SolarWorld’s Oregon facility and will increase operations to capitalize on an unexpectedly strong market demand in the U.S.

Late-breaking growth in the solar industry comes after Trump used his executive powers in March to level tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Some U.S. manufacturers, including the solar industry, had petitioned the White House for the penalties, claiming unfair practices from solar panel importers.

Despite getting swept into office as an ally of the fossil fuel industry, many are acknowledging Trump’s policies have helped U.S. solar manufactures.

“Three recent announcements — NextEra raising its purchase order from JinkoSolar’s Florida facility, SunPower buying SolarWorld Americas, and First Solar building a new plant — suggest that the domestic solar industry is adapting to the president’s trade decision,” ClearView Energy Partners analyst Timothy Fox stated in a Friday Axios report. There was little interest in domestic manufacturing expansion — until the trade tariffs were put in place, Fox also mentioned.

When discussing their decision to expand operations, First Solar did not credit the tariffs specifically but did cite GOP tax reform as spurring stronger-than-expected demand.

In a Monday article, “Trump likes coal, but that doesn’t mean he’s hostile to wind,” The Associated Press noted the renewable energy initiatives Trump’s White House has undertaken. Offshore wind projects are pressing ahead in coastal states such as New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Connecticut, thanks to federal leases.

The moves are part of Trump’s big tent goal of energy dominance and independence, according to the administration.

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