Trump Move to Kill Solar Loophole Blocked by Trade Court

Source: By By Brian Eckhouse and Brian Flood, Bloomberg • Posted: Friday, December 6, 2019

Solar panels stand at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near Primm, Nevada.

Solar panels stand at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near Primm, Nevada. Photographer: Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg

A trade court handed U.S. solar developers a victory by temporarily blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to kill a loophole that’s helped the industry weather tariffs on imported panels.

The U.S. Court of International Trade issued a preliminary injunction freezing the administration’s move to eliminate the provision that exempted bifacial — or double-sided — panels from duties.

The ruling is a win for Invenergy LLC, Clearway Energy Group LLC and other American solar-farm developers that will continue to have a way to circumvent tariffs that Donald Trump imposed in early 2018. The exclusion for bifacial panels will now remain in place for potentially months until the issue is resolved in court.

“This is an important temporary reprieve,” Abigail Ross Hopper, chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration surprised the renewable energy industry in June when it granted an exemption for bifacial panels. The carve-out was widely seen an escape hatch from the tariffs, which make solar farms more expensive to build and triggered widespread job losses. Less than four months after granting the reprieve, however, the government decided to yank it, saying it would’ve led to more imported panels.

While a boon to the industry at large, the court’s ruling is a setback for the handful of companies that make panels in the U.S. Shares of the largest U.S. panel maker, First Solar Inc., lost as much as 3.1% while SunPower Corp. sank 2.4%.

The trade court’s ruling came in response to a complaint filed by Invenergy, challenging the government’s withdrawal of the exclusion. In its ruling, the court said it was granting the injunction because “because Invenergy is likely to succeed on the merits.”

The ruling comes as the U.S. International Trade Commission is undertaking a midterm review of the solar tariffs to determine if they should be amended.

Read More: As Trump Tariffs Face Review, Solar Industry Girds for Fight

Bifacial panels make up a small portion of modules installed at solar farms globally. But they are becoming increasingly popular because they produce more power. BloombergNEF analyst Tara Narayanan said keeping the exemption in place even temporarily for two-sided panels will accelerate that trend.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, the leading U.S. solar trade group, says the tariffs were unwanted in the first place and have caused more harm than good. The group released an analysis this week that said if left in place, the duties will cost the industry $19 billion in investment and will lead to 62,000 fewer jobs by 2021.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro called that report “fake news dressed up in academic mumbo jumbo.”

— With assistance by Susan Decker, Ari Natter, and Josh Wingrove