A recommendation sent to President Donald Trump this week encourages him to raise taxes on solar panels imported from other countries. If that happens solar proponents warn jobs will be lost and the industry will experience a major setback. Roz Brown spoke with Garrett Garner-Wells, director of Colorado’s Environment Research and Policy Center to find out what it will mean for the solar industry if the President approves the tariff.
A Pew Research Center poll has shown that nine out of 10 Americans – both Republicans and Democrats – support the development of more solar energy. And Garner-Wells says they’re proving it with their purchases.
“Right now in the U.S., one in 14 homes is powered by solar,” said Garner-Wells. “We saw one million solar installations in the first 40 years of solar power and now we’re on track to meet that every two years.”
Garner-Wells says solar products costs on average two-thirds less than they did a decade ago and the American public has embraced its clean energy features.
“We’re seeing more sophistication in the way the solar industry works. A number of companies operate under different models to sell a variety of products but our regulatory environment needs to better support that.”
There’s just one problem with the current solar environment. Even though consumers benefit, inexpensive solar panels are mostly made in China, and some U.S. manufacturers of solar equipment have suffered from the cheaper imports. They’ve made themselves heard and that’s why the U.S. Trade Commission wants President Trump to impose a 35-percent tax on imported solar panels. Garner-Wells says it’s double-edged sword because the cheaper imports have also created thousands of jobs for retailers and installation contractors.
“Homeowners and business owners who want to see solar on their own homes and in their communities are up against some really powerful players who don’t want to see that happen.”
If the new taxes were approved, the cost of an average residential solar system would increase by two-thousand dollar. It could also cost jobs. Currently the American solar industry employs about 260-thousand people and one estimate says the 35-percent tariff would shed about 88-thousand of those jobs. And at the same time, the Trump administration is working to revive the coal industry. It has blasted renewable energy as expensive and dependent on government subsidies. Garner-Wells says Environment America has identified 20 fossil-fuel-backed groups and electric utilities running campaigns to slow the growth of solar energy, because increased profit for one industry eventually means lower profits for the other.
“We are seeing even more attacks coming from industry front groups, from within the Trump administration and from utility companies themselves who are trying to block progress on solar power.”
As of mid-2017, at least 90 ongoing policy actions at the state level could affect the growth of rooftop solar generation. They include limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less affordable. Many solar companies across the U.S. are assuming President Trump will impose the tariff and have put projects on indefinite hold or even eliminated them. But while actions under the current administration might temporarily slow the solar industry, Garner-Wells says solar offers too many advantages for the public to accept them as permanent.