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Import tariff on solar panels threatens plans / January 22, 2018
The outlook for solar development in Halifax County may cloud over if President Trump makes good on his America First rhetoric by imposing tariffs on foreign-made solar panels imported into the U.S.

The Trump Administration has until Friday to decide whether to impose tariffs to protect domestic solar panel producers from overseas competition, a move that critics say could harm the industry and cost tens of thousands of jobs tied to the construction of solar facilities.

Halifax County currently has more applications for solar farms than any other county in the state, according to Planning and Zoning Administrator Detrick Easley.

Halifax County has approved one 65-watt solar farm, with five more applications representing a total of 291 megawatts of electricity in the queue for hearings and permit approvals.

The developers of the six proposed local facilities estimate that, taken together, Halifax County would gain a total of 2,000 temporary jobs from solar construction — along with millions of dollars in local spending on goods and services, and almost a million dollars a year in long-term local tax revenue.

Inexpensive panels coming out of China have helped to fuel the boom in solar energy projects, but the trade flows have exacted a steep price on domestic panel makers.

In November, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), an independent federal agency responsible for investigating unfair trade practices, recommended that the White House level tariffs on imported solar panels, triggering a 60-day period for President Trump to make a decision. The deadline for Trump to act is Friday, Jan. 26, under the process laid out by the trade commission.

The ITC found that U.S. solar manufacturers had suffered “serious injury” from imported solar panels and recommended up to a 35 percent tariff on all imported panels from anywhere in the world.

Richard Harkrader, chief executive officer for Carolina Solar Energy, whose company has two solar farm applications before the Halifax County Planning Commission, is concerned about the impact the tariffs would have on Carolina Solar’s business.

“Solar panels represent 50 percent of construction costs, and although Carolina Solar plans to continue the permitting process, any decision on when to schedule construction will depend on how much of a tariff President Trump imposes on the solar panels,” Harkrader explained.

“After the United States imposed anti-dumping tariffs on China in 2012 for flooding the United States market with inexpensive solar panels, we experienced a one year hiccup in business where projects slowed down or were put on hold,” added Harkrader.

Dan Whitten, vice president of communications for Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), an industry trade group, said, “The impact to the United States solar industry is tied to the level of tariffs imposed by the President … Any tariff above 10 percent will result in job loss, and if the government adopts the ITC’s recommendation of 35 percent, we could see the elimination of 88,000 U.S. jobs and the deferred installation of 47 gigawatts of solar capacity between 2017 and 2022.”

In 2017, nearly 260,000 Americans worked in solar-related jobs, Whitten said. Of that number, 85 percent were tied to the development of solar installations — in sales, installation, engineering and other jobs — and the other 15 percent worked in manufacturing, mostly for tech-leading solar companies that offer higher-cost solar cells and panels that serve a certain portion of the market. Those companies are unlikely to see much benefit from tariffs that target low-end producers, said Whitten.

SEIA supports an import-licensing fee that would funnel roughly $800 million in revenues directly to U.S. solar panel manufacturers, and would not damage the downstream supply chain and the national pipeline of solar projects under development. Whitten said, however, that he is not optimistic that Trump will consider this option.

Harkrader said he is not sure why American companies think they can compete in the market of producing low-cost solar panels. “The reality is that it is a commodity business with a race to the bottom line price,” Harkrader said.

Whitten concurred with that view: “China has historically heavily subsidized its solar manufacturing. The United States should play to our strengths, to focus on R&D and on producing more high-tech and energy efficient solar panels. That is ultimately what will set U.S. manufacturers apart from low-cost importers.”

Clean Technica, a solar industry publication, writes, “With the solar industry creating jobs 17 times faster than most of the economy, imposing such tariffs in a changing energy landscape in 2018 is not worth the economic risk.” However, that view is disputed by domestic solar panel manufacturers who say dozens of companies have been driven out of business in recent years by the flood of cheap products from China.

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You installers are already being subsidized by taxpayers with a 30% tax credit.,-washing-machines-with-tariffs


NAFTA started it all. Maybe Trump will finish it.

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