Effect of Trump solar-panel import tariffs on clean-power growth debated


Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee

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A majority of the photovoltaic solar panels used in the U.S. are imported from such countries as China, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Now, environmentalists and energy analysts worry that the new 30-percent tariff on solar-panel imports announced last Monday by President Donald Trump may stymie the rapidly growing clean-energy industry.

The tariff would apply to imported panels above 2.5 gigawatts and would fall by 5 percent each year for four years.

DON'T MISS: Soaring growth of solar power demonstrated in one chart (updated)

Observers worry the tariff could have a crippling impact on the solar power industry, which relies heavily on imported panels for its installations.

The industry has averaged annual growth of 68 percent for the last decade, according to an industry group, while a 2016 report estimated that the total cumulative capacity of installed U.S. solar panels was roughly 40 gigawatts.

The Solar Energy Industries Association called the tariff a "loss for America" and estimates that the decision would cost up to 23,000 jobs in the industry this year.

Colas Wattway road-mounted solar panels

Colas Wattway road-mounted solar panels

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“It boggles my mind that this president—any president, really—would voluntarily choose to damage one of the fastest-growing segments of our economy,” Tony Clifford, chief development officer of Standard Solar, said in a statement to SEIA.

“This decision is misguided and denies the reality that bankrupt foreign companies will be the beneficiaries of an American taxpayer bailout.”

While the tariff is aimed at protecting the few remaining American solar-panel makers, the industry association estimated that only 2,000 out of 38,000 solar manufacturing jobs are directly related to making the panels.

Last week, when Trump enacted the tariff, he said the newly imposed tariffs would spur growth in the U.S.

"Potentially great industry in this country, but now we’ll be making it in the United States. Okay. A lot of workers; a lot of jobs," he said, according to the White House.

Photovoltaic solar panels on roof of Honda Smart Home at UC-Davis, California

Photovoltaic solar panels on roof of Honda Smart Home at UC-Davis, California

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Experts disagree. The tariff is high enough to slow installations, but not high enough to bring manufacturing panels stateside, according to Popular Science.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted the move on Twitter.

 

The photovoltaic panels themselves, according to some analyses, makes up only about one-third of the cost of an installation.

The rest is composed of such "soft costs" as frames for the panels, land for larger arrays, power inverters, wiring, and of course the cost of labor to do the installations.

That means that the tariff may add only 10 percent to the total cost of the installations—and whether that is enough to have a material effect on installation rates remains to be seen.

 
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