As expected, US President Donald Trump has imposed a 30 percent tariff on solar cells imported into the US, mainly from Asia, a move that could bring the booming residential solar industry to a screeching halt. However, they were vehemently opposed by Tesla and other large players in the US solar energy industry, who say they will wipe out high-paying jobs in a promising new sector of the economy.
In a case that has riven the booming American solar energy sector for six months, the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended levying comparatively modest tariffs on imports of silicon-based solar photovoltaic cells and solar panels. The measures recommended Tuesday by the ITC's four commissioners include establishing a licensing fee on some equipment, an idea developed by the Solar Energy Industries Assn., and tariffs on silicon-based solar cells of up to 30%, as well as tariffs on solar panels that range from 10% to 35%. The recommended remedies, which the ITC will transmit to President Trump by Nov. 13, were considerably lower than the 78-cents-per-watt tariff suggested by Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, the international companies that brought the tariff case late in April. In a tweet Tuesday, MJ Shiao, head of Americas Research at GTM Research, a unit of Wood Mackenzie, said levying a 30% tariff would increase the price of solar panels by 10 cents to 15 cents per watt. Rooftop solar panels were priced earlier this year around 35 cents per watt, and 55 cents per watt for a utility-scale solar panel.
U S. trade officials on Friday empowered President Trump to impose tariffs that could cut off the solar energy industry from the cheap foreign-made panels that have driven its explosive growth. The tariffs under consideration are meant to protect a small number of American solar-panel manufacturers reeling in the face of cheap imports. The U.S. International Trade Commission voted to enable Trump to impose them at the behest of two distressed firms that warned the American panel manufacturing industry is in a state of collapse. But most of the rest of the solar industry fiercely opposes the levies, which independent analysts warn would drive up consumer prices and cause the number of annual solar installations in the U.S. to plunge. Only a fraction of American solar companies make the panels.
The solar energy sector lost 8,000 jobs in the US last year, the second consecutive year of declines, hit by uncertainty over the Trump administration's energy and trade policies and a 30% tariff on imported solar panels, according to a report released on Tuesday. But according to the Solar Foundation the future is still bright for solar. Despite the two-year dip, solar employment has grown 159%, from just over 93,000 to more than 242,000 jobs in all 50 states over the past nine years and the report concludes the long-term outlook for solar energy production is positive. Solar, which currently represents about 2.4% of overall US electricity generation, already employs twice as many workers as the coal industry and almost five times as many workers as the nuclear industry. States hit hardest by the slowdown were some of those with well-established solar industries, including California, with almost 10,000 job losses, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Arizona, while 29 states – many with less established solar penetration, including Florida, Texas and Illinois – continued to see job growth.