Solar Developer Sees Trump Tariffs Giving Gas Rivals a Boost

Source: By Perry Williams, Bloomberg • Posted: Monday, January 29, 2018

SolarReserve LLC, a California-based renewable-energy developer, said President Donald Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on solar equipment imports will benefit the U.S. gas industry.

Raising prices for the goods to enter the U.S. will cause a slowdown in the solar sector, the company’s Chief Executive Officer Kevin Smith said in a phone interview Thursday. The duties will eliminate up to 25,000 jobs, he said.

“Solar energy’s main competition is natural gas and that’s where I think we’ll see some changes on the margins,” Smith said. “We’re going to see a shift to a little less solar and a little bit more gas sales.”

Trump approved four years of tariffs that start at 30 percent in the first year and drop to 15 percent by the fourth year in a move that threatens to handicap a $28 billion industry that relies on parts made abroad for 80 percent of its supply. Washington D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association projected 23,000 job losses this year in a sector that employed 260,000.

Santa Monica-based SolarReserve also confirmed it will start construction on a 150-megawatt solar thermal project in South Australia this year, which includes an energy-storage component.

Solar-thermal plants use thousands of mirrors to focus sunlight onto towers topped with vats of molten salt, which creates steam to power generators. The facility will be able to send power to the grid throughout the night, Smith said, and will supply electricity at A$78 ($63) per megawatt hour as part of a deal with the South Australian government.

The U.S. tariffs may benefit some solar manufacturers with operations in the U.S. including Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc. and Elon Musk’s Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Inc.