Trump solar tariffs could kill 62K jobs — report

Source: By Lesley Clark, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The U.S. solar industry could lose out on nearly 62,000 jobs and $19 billion in investment due to Trump administration tariffs on imported panels, according to a report issued yesterday by a solar trade group.

The U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association released the study two days before the U.S. International Trade Commission is scheduled to review the tariffs, and as President Trump announced import taxes on industrial metals from Brazil and Argentina.

“Solar was the first industry to be hit with this administration’s tariff policy, and now we’re feeling the impacts that we warned against two years ago,” said SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper. “This stark data should be the predicate for removing harmful tariffs and allowing solar to fairly compete and continue creating jobs for Americans.”

The industry is pushing for the commission to scrap the tariffs, but Hopper said she fears the administration will “somehow make them harsher.”

The White House imposed the 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules — most of which are Chinese made — in February 2018 as part of a broader push to aid domestic manufacturers of solar panels and washing machines (Greenwire, Feb. 19, 2018). The tariff was designed to last four years, starting at 30% and dropping by 5 percentage points a year, until it expires in 2021 at 15%.

One of the solar panel manufacturing companies that first petitioned for the tariff, however, has called for it to be reduced at a slower rate, Hopper said.

“Stepping it down more slowly would increase the number of jobs lost and increase the amount of economic investment unrealized,” she said.

Supporters say that without the tariff, the U.S. would be entirely dependent on Chinese solar manufacturing, which they said benefits from government subsidies.

“The lesson is that tariff protection has helped U.S. solar manufacturing industry to expand and get on its feet again,” said Jeff Ferry, research director at the Coalition for a Prosperous America, which represents domestic manufacturers and producers in the U.S. “Two years ago we were in danger of seeing the last U.S. solar cell manufacturers go out of business.”

He said the tariffs have helped grow or create about a dozen solar manufacturers in the U.S.

Hopper said there have been about 2,000 jobs added because of solar manufacturing, but she added that there’s not enough capacity in the U.S. to meet the demand.

“Most companies would be happy to buy from U.S. manufacturers if there was product … available, but there’s just not,” she said. “There’s still a significant shortfall, and most of our companies and most of the projects can not buy U.S.-made modules.”

Hopper acknowledged that “things are going well for solar,” considering industry growth since the solar investment tax credit was passed in 2016. But she argued that the tariffs have created lost opportunities for more jobs and impeded efforts to cut carbon emissions.

“These tariffs have slowed down the growth of solar,” she said. “Yes, solar has continued to grow, but not nearly at the rate it was projected to and not nearly at the rate that consumers want it to.”

She said that markets in some states have remained resilient but that prices have spiked in other areas. The tariffs have had the greatest effect on nascent solar markets in states such as Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, because they make solar uncompetitive compared with other forms of energy, according to SEIA.

The study estimates that if the tariffs remain unchanged, the industry would create 62,000 fewer jobs than it otherwise would have between 2017 and 2021. SEIA said it calculated the job impacts using methodology developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The report estimates that the tariffs would result in about 10.5 gigawatts of lost solar deployment — or enough to power 1.8 million homes and avoid 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.