Solar tariffs case spawns rift at Fox News

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A high-profile trade case that could slap tariffs on the solar industry has put big name Fox News anchors on rival sides of the debate.

Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham are just two of many analysts commenting on the case, but their positions are gaining attention because of President Trump’s stated support of the television network and its popularity with his political base. This month, Hannity interviewed Trump, who frequently quotes Fox on his Twitter account.

On her Friday radio show, Ingraham broadly attacked China’s trade policies and supported new trade barriers.

“You cannot compete with state subsidies that have been directed toward certain industries, and it’s solar, it’s steel, it’s things like countertops, which they’ve also counterfeited, they steal technology and things as simple as Cambria quartz countertops,” Ingraham said.

“And what Donald Trump is saying here, in the solar industry, is all we want is a comparable playing field, competitive advantage? No, we’re not looking for a competitive advantage, we’re just not going to preside over competitive disadvantage because of their cheating,” she said.

Ingraham’s influence is uncertain, considering she has sparred publicly with the president before. This summer, Trump tweeted at Ingraham directly that he wouldn’t be filling many government positions after she questioned low staffing levels.

Meanwhile, Hannity is taking the opposite view. In an ad commissioned by Solar Powers America and posted online by the Solar Energy Industries Association, Hannity said “taxpayers should not have to bail out one foreign-owned company,” referring to the Chinese firm that is the majority owner of Suniva Inc.

“American solar can compete just fine on its own,” he said. The ad recently ran in South Carolina.

By early January, Trump is expected to decide whether to impose trade barriers on solar modules and cells. Suniva and Solarworld Americas have called for new interventions to protect the solar manufacturing industry from a flood of cheap imports, primarily from Asia.

Last month, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that imported solar panels and modules are causing “serious injury” to U.S. manufacturers. The commission is expected to send recommendations by the end of the month to Trump, who can accept them or devise his own response (Greenwire, Sept. 22).

Trump has not spoken publicly about the Suniva case but reportedly said “bring me some tariffs” in an Oval Office meeting in August, prompting speculation that he was likely to support new trade protections (Greenwire, Aug. 28).

Opponents of tariffs, including much of the solar industry, say barriers for two companies will stall the rest of the industry because of higher prices for components. Supporters say the concerns are overblown and will revive U.S. solar manufacturing.

Separately, Adnan Amin, the director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, told Reuters this morning in Singapore that solar installations could be 23 percent higher on an annual basis over the next five year than estimates from the International Energy Agency.

“In the next decade, the cost of [utility scale] solar could fall by 60 percent or more,” Amin said.