US solar manufactures worry over impact of new tariffs


In a long-expected move, the U.S. Trump Administration has approved a recommendation to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels.

It argues that low-cost imports from countries like China have hurt U.S. panel manufacturers.

But many in the U.S. solar industry have come out against the decision.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

“More and more people are choosing to go solar and own their energy,” Alex Valdez, the founder and C.E.O. of EcoMark Solar said. He keeps his product competitive by importing his solar panels from Asia.

“Like most things electronic in the United States, they’re mostly made in China,” he said.

For some U.S. solar panel manufacturers, that’s a real problem. They asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to recommend steep tariffs on the relatively cheap imported panels.

One of those companies is Suniva, which ironically is Chinese majority-owned. “The crisis caused by foreign market overcapacity now facing the U.S. (solar) industry is so extreme, the financial losses so great that, to be effective, any remedy must be bold,” the company said in a statement.

“A higher price for panels, then less people will be purchasing them is sort of the general idea,” said Ian Lange, Assistant Professor at the Colorado School of Mines. “Just a price up, quantity down.”

Thereby allowing U.S. solar panel manufacturers to regain their footing. The Trump Administration agreed with that reasoning in announcing a 30 percent tariff on imported panels. But many U.S. solar installers say the move is counter-productive. According to one report, more than 260-thousand Americans now work in the solar industry. Some argue more expensive panels will dampen business and hurt workers.

“Here in Colorado, we have a workforce of 8,000 people,” said Taylor Henderson with the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association. “We expect that the tariff could impact up to a third of those jobs.”

“It adds cost in so it’s not good for the consumer,” said Valdez. He thinks his costs could go up 10 percent as a result of the tariff. The head of Auric Solar, which saw a 50 percent increase in revenues in 2017, believes the new import duties will have a ripple effect through the industry, but that homeowners and businesses will continue to sign up for solar energy.

“We think this is closer to like a four or five percent impact, and at least for our company, we feel like that’s something that we can absorb based on the growth we had,” said Jess Phillips, Auric Solar C.E.O.

“Most people are expecting to have a slight dent in the growth of the solar market but not a lot,” said Lange.

Valdez, who employs 125 people, doesn’t expect layoffs, but plans to be more cautious about hiring in the future. At a time when the cost of solar energy has come way down, he said tariffs send the wrong signal.

“When our government is in a sense getting in the way of the people’s desire to own their energy and to change the paradigm of how people get their energy, it’s really not good for anybody,” Valdez said.

Larger utility-scale projects are expected to bear the brunt of the tariff, which will drop gradually over the next four years.