In January 2018, President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels despite protests from much of the industry, sending jobs into one of the country’s fastest growing employment engines tumble for the next two years.
Now the solar industry calls on the president-elect Joe biden to cut short what has been widely seen as Trump’s biggest blow to solar power during his tenure.
On Tuesday, the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group representing more than 1,000 companies, said it wanted the Biden administration to revoke the four-year tariffs a year earlier.
The White House should have the legal authority to unilaterally end import fees, despite courts having blocked Trump’s efforts to change his own tariffs to remove an exemption for bifacial panels, photovoltaic panels that recover energy from the sun on both sides of the equipment.
“Revoking an exclusion that has already been granted and removing tariffs are two very different procedural policies,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of SEIA, during a press call Tuesday morning.
“We are asking the president-elect to remove these tariffs a year earlier because we do not believe that this had the political objective that at least our current president was looking for,” she added.
Trump enacted the 30% tariffs, which have declined at a rate of 5% per year, as a kick-start in what turned into a bigger trade war with China at the end of 2018. At first Seen, his move appeared to be aimed at giving the small US solar energy manufacturing sector a chance to compete with its Asian rivals who enjoy lower labor costs and more generous government support.
Yet more than two dozen American solar manufacturers publicly urged the Trump administration not to apply the tariffs. Instead, the White House sided with subsidiaries of two foreign solar companies that had requested the tariffs: Georgia-based Suniva, which was owned by a Chinese company, and SolarWorld, the Oregon-based division of a German panel manufacturer.
The effect of tariffs has been mixed. About a half-dozen companies have installed new solar module factories in the United States, but more factories have closed, according to the trade publication GreenTechMedia reported. In an industry where three-quarters of Americans work in installation and wholesaling (sectors bolstered by cheap imported panels), tariffs have lost 62,000 jobs and $ 19 billion in investment, according to one To analyse SEIA released last December.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with the transition team about this,” Hopper said of Biden officials. “This is something that we have raised and continue to raise with them because it has had a huge impact on our industry. ”
Other concerns included in SEIA’s nine-page wishlist released on Tuesday include the appointment of pro-renewable commissioners to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, increased use of solar energy in federal agencies and facilitation of the authorization of solar projects on public lands.
While the White House may have the power to go it alone on these issues, the industry’s other top priority will require Congress. SEIA hopes Congress will extend the solar investment tax credit, the federal incentive that has long fueled the industry’s growth.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Whose party looks likely to hold a narrow majority in the House next year, has signaled he will not support the inclusion of Democratic legislative priorities in the next stimulus bill to stave off a pandemic induced economic depression. But Hopper said extending the solar tax credit would likely garner bipartisan support.
“In the conversations we have that are not on the front page of a newspaper, there are many, many Republican senators who support solar power,” she said.
The inclusion of the tax credit in the stimulus bill, she said, depends on the scope of the legislation.
“We have some concern,” she said. “If anything moves we have a good chance of being in there, but obviously there is a pretty big gap as we sit here today on November 17th.”
Either way, the industry looks set to thrive over the next decade. Last month, the International Energy Agency declared solar “”the new king of electricity“, projecting that in the years to come it would produce the cheapest electricity the world has ever seen.