Trump does tariff U-turn in blow to solar industry

Source: By Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 7, 2019

The Trump administration eliminated a previously granted exemption from solar tariffs Friday, sparking pushback from renewable advocates who said the measure was needed to boost the industry as federal tax credits are phasing down.

In an online notice, the U.S. trade representative said the earlier exemption of “bifacial” panels — which absorb sunlight and generate power on both sides — would “undermine the objectives” of broader solar tariffs announced by President Trump in January 2018.

Global production of the two-sided panels is increasing, and the exclusion would “likely result in significant increases in imports of bifacial solar panels” and “compete with domestically-produced” products, according to USTR.

“We’re obviously disappointed in this decision,” said John Smirnow, vice president of marketing strategy at the Solar Energy Industries Association, in an emailed statement. “We look forward to making sure the bifacial exemption gets a fair hearing during the midterm review process.”

The January 2018 tariffs on solar cells and modules, currently set at a rate of 25%, are scheduled for a review in January by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

U.S. officials granted the loophole on bifacial panels in June, which solar supporters called a “significant win” (Energywire, June 13). Smirnow said at the time that the trade action was important despite the lack of bifacial manufacturing in the United States, as he said it would accelerate a trend of utilities moving toward wider use of the panels. The technology is most often used domestically in large utility-scale solar projects.

In a research note, Roth Capital Partners analyst Philip Shen said that removal of the exemption would slow down the development of bifacial solar technology and potentially boost prospects for Arizona-based First Solar Inc., a company that manufacturers a competing product.

China led the world in terms of installed bifacial modules as of August 2019, with more than 6,000 megawatts, according to Wood Mackenzie. The United States ranked second at 547 MW. The research firm said in a report last month that installed capacity of the technology globally grew from 97 MW in 2016 to 2,600 MW in 2018.