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On Monday, the Trump administration slapped 30 percent tariffs on solar imports. The New York Times is out with a story from a Zebulon solar farm, talking about the potential effects of the tariffs on the industry. Some highlights:
- “Across North Carolina, textile factories and tobacco farms have disappeared, giving way to fields of solar panels. But for those venturing into solar farming like [Tommy] Vinson, the future of this vibrant industry is now cloudy. On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it would impose steep tariffs on imported solar panels, which could raise the cost of solar power in the years ahead, slowing adoption of the technology and costing jobs.”
- “Today, 95 percent of the solar panels used in the United States are imported from countries like Malaysia and South Korea, and the companies contend that tariffs are needed to protect the nation’s remaining solar factories. … But while the tariffs may help domestic manufacturers, they are expected to ripple throughout the industry in ways that may ultimately hurt American companies and their workers. Energy experts say it is unlikely that the tariffs will create more than a small number of American solar manufacturing jobs, since low-wage countries will continue to have a competitive edge.”
- “But by raising the cost of one all-important ingredient, the tariffs could make solar power less competitive with other sources of energy, like gas and wind, resulting in the construction of fewer solar projects. On Tuesday, the Solar Energy Industries Association said that the president’s action would result in the loss of roughly 23,000 jobs in the solar industry this year, as well as the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars of investments.”
- Politico, meanwhile, frames this latest move as part of “Trump’s failing war on green power”: “President Donald Trump and Republicans have tried again and again during the past year to turn back the clock on energy—pushing policies that would help fossil fuels stave off advances by solar and wind. But they have repeatedly come up short. … Trump spent his campaign promoting an ‘America First’ energy policy that translated to more oil, gas and especially coal—even as he slammed solar as expensive and hammered wind turbines as ugly. But after growing rapidly during the Obama years, wind and solar energy may have come too far for even a pro-fossil-fuel administration to stuff back into the barrel—especially after creating tens of thousands of jobs in both red and blue states. … The Solar Energy Industries Association says the tariffs imposed Monday will cost the industry 23,000 jobs, but even CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said the 30 percent tariff was not as bad as it could have been, since Trump could have imposed a 50 percent tariff.”
- “Since solar cells and panels make up only a fraction of a new solar system’s costs, analysts expect the tariffs to bump up overall installed prices by 6 percent for residential rooftops and about 10 percent for utility-scale plants. Rocky Mountain Institute’s own analysis says that the ongoing decline in solar installation costs will wipe out the price increases from the tariff in 18 months.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The Zebulon solar farm is part of a booming industry in North Carolina. As the Environmental Defense Fund points out: “Today, there are more than 34,000 clean energy jobs in North Carolina (a 30 percent increase since 2015), more than 5,600 MW of cumulative renewable energy capacity, and nearly 1000 clean energy firms that contribute more than $6 billion in annual revenue to the state’s economy. North Carolina also is now second in the nation for total installed solar energy capacity. Beyond these impressive job and revenue numbers, clean energy investments are putting downward pressure on electricity rates, saving North Carolina electricity customers money.”
- Still, politicians’ reticence to embrace renewable fuels is familiar ground here. In 2015, the state ended renewable-energy subsidies that encouraged the industry’s growth here [INDY], with fossil-fueled-aligned conservatives arguing that it amounted to the government picking winners and losers in the state. More recently—in an otherwise palatable bill signed by Governor Cooper—the state limited the length of contracts on solar plants and capped the amount of third-party renewable energy utilities had to build. [WRAL]
- The bottom line: Trump’s decision will do little to boost manufacturing, and it will, in the short term, harm the solar industry, including in North Carolina. But it won’t be enough to turn back the clock on the growth of renewable energy.