If the United States is to employ an “all of the above energy policy,” where every form of energy is allowed to compete on its own merits, then the Trump administration should not take steps to hurt the solar industry. Instead, America’s solar industry should concentrate on what it does best, manufacturing and installation of large and heavy panels that are too big to economically import and initial production of innovative new products based on U.S. research and development excellence. Growth for solar energy depends on competitive pricing, particularly when U.S. consumers are benefiting from abundant supplies of shale gas and oil. The U.S. shouldn’t go out of its way to artificially prop up the solar industry, nor should it take steps to weaken our ability to use the sun for a residential and commercial energy supply.
Jeffrey Ball, scholar-in-residence at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance: Solar power is undergoing a stunning revolution, plummeting in price and surging in popularity. That price drop is due partly to technology, partly to government subsidies and mostly to the efficiencies of globalization. The surest way to encourage solar’s global growth is to let that globalization proceed—not to block it with tariffs. Tariffs already have hurt solar in the U.S., and more tariffs would do more damage.
Government policy shouldn’t pick which companies win and which companies lose. Instead, good policy fosters competition, which leads to better products and greater prosperity. When the politicians get involved, it usually leads to worse outcomes for businesses, workers, and consumers. Take for example the case of SolarWorld and Suniva. The two solar panel manufacturers have not been as successful as foreign competitors in the marketplace and, rather than make changes to improve their products and services, the companies have instead petitioned for protective trade measures.
The US solar industry — representing roughly 374,000 domestic jobs — is currently under threat by two foreign-owned companies. Bankrupted by severe mismanagement, Chinese-owned Suniva and German-owned SolarWorld are attempting to cash-in on a U.S. government bailout by obtaining new job-killing tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. President Trump is a staunch defender of American manufacturing. He shouldn’t be fooled by this case. Foreign companies are trying to manipulate our trade laws by asking for tariffs, while American companies are united against tariffs. There are more than 600 facilities in the US that manufacture for the solar industry — and 54 solar manufacturers in the Carolinas alone. Suniva and SolarWorld’s plea for a bailout benefits only their foreign hedge fund backers while jeopardizing the vast majority of solar manufacturing jobs.
PV magazine first reported on “the Suniva effect” in July, when it first started hearing that project developers were hoarding solar modules to head off significant price hikes and were increasingly reluctant to sign final contracts on even fully funded projects because of price instability in the module market. While the residential and small commercial markets have been less affected by the uncertainty because modules make up a less significant percentage of overall project costs, utility-scale projects like Fort Stockton have seen a significant slowdown – a situation likely only to get worse if the USITC recommends to the president that he should impose significant sanctions on non-U.S. manufactured crystalline-silicon (c-Si) modules, the most common modules in use in the United States.
President Donald Trump hasn’t yet decided whether to impose tariffs on cheap imported solar equipment, but the uncertainty has already killed or slowed projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars and cost Texas jobs. A 100-megawatt, $100 million solar farm near Fort Stockton has been put on “indefinite hold” awaiting Trump’s decision, said Scott Canada, senior vice president of renewable energy for McCarthy Building Companies. That project, he said, would have employed about 300 to 400 people for nine months at the peak of construction. “It’s been a significant hit just within the last six months,” he said about a federal agency’s recommendation to impose up to 35 percent tariff on imports. “Every one of our customers said things are pretty much indefinitely on hold until there’s clarity.”
President Trump made a strong commitment to defend American companies but, in this case, the global financial interests behind two failed foreign companies are trying to get a bailout on their bad investment by manipulating U.S. trade laws for their benefit and hurting many successful American companies in the process. President Trump shouldn’t be fooled by this three-card monte of foreign financial capital – the Germans, and Qataris, and offshore hedge funds are trying to pull one over on him. President Trump needs to back the factory workers of Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama, and say no to tariff bailouts for foreign owned solar speculators.
Yet if Trump does impose tariffs that raise the price of solar panels and modules, the penalty will ultimately be paid by Americans who convert to solar power. Worse, it could make solar power uneconomic for at least some of those people who might have bought panels for their homes or businesses, hurting installers and the rest of the industry that surrounds solar power. Not only are there more jobs at risk in those companies than there are at Suniva and Solar World, but the U.S. has a strong environmental and strategic interest in shifting to solar power.