Solar decision isn’t imminent — official

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2018

The White House is downplaying reports that a decision in a highly watched solar trade case is imminent.

In an emailed statement yesterday, an administration official said the “White House is coordinating an exhaustive process, alongside [the U.S. Trade Representative], that ensures any and all consequences of recommendations sent to the president — be they economic, national security or otherwise — are fully considered and researched.”

“We don’t have a specific date set but will meet the statutory deadline,” the official added.

The comments came in response to a Politico report yesterday that President Trump could make a decision as early as today about whether to enact trade barriers on solar components.

Under the law, Trump has until Jan. 26 to make a final decision about whether to implement tariffs or other measures. Earlier this year, the U.S. International Trade Commission found two U.S.-based solar manufacturers, Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, were experiencing serious injury from a flood of cheap imports (E&E News PM, Oct. 31, 2017).

Sources familiar with the administration’s thinking say they are expecting Trump to enact a tariff on solar modules and a tariff rate quota on solar cells. That would be in line what was recommended by several commissioners at the ITC in October. Under a tariff rate quota, tariffs would kick in when imports reach a certain gigawatt threshold.

Specific numbers are unclear. Some sources said they were expecting a tariff closer to 30 percent on modules, while others expected lower numbers. With Trump making a final decision, the details could change.

Trump also has tools under Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act to trigger another 90-day clock by announcing intent to negotiate a settlement with China, according to Greentech Media. One industry source said yesterday that there is an outside push for that, although another said there is a “small chance” of a delay.

Next week, Trump is scheduled to give a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, prompting private speculation that he may announce a decision on the solar case either right before or at the event, although it’s also possible a decision could come earlier.

In the interim, the lobbying on both sides continues. This morning, USA Today published an editorial titled “Solar tariffs would kill jobs, harm environment.” On that side is a coalition of most of the solar industry, environmentalists and conservative think tanks.

In a competing op-ed in the same newspaper, Suniva Executive Vice President of Commercial Operations Matt Card wrote, “China’s government funds its factories, resulting in a flood of artificially cheap solar cells and modules, causing worldwide prices to plummet. The results are catastrophic.”

Last month, trade experts predicted the case could prompt fights at the World Trade Organization if tariffs are enacted (Greenwire, Dec. 19, 2017).