President Trump has indicated interest in placing tariffs on foreign imports in order to boost domestic manufacturing. For the solar industry, however, the issue of tariffs gets complicated fast. For context, it’s important to understand that solar panels are made up of solar cells that actually generate the electricity. American solar cell manufacturing has been struggling to keep up with cheaper solar cells imported from Asia. This sector of the U.S. solar industry now supplies just 2,000-4,000 jobs. At the same time, domestic manufacturing of solar panels from imported cells has been rising, supplying 38,000 jobs. And low solar costs are driving massive installations across the country. Installers account for 137,000 of the solar industry’s 260,000 total jobs.
So when Suniva Inc. – a cell and panel manufacturer out of Georgia that declared bankruptcy this past April – filed a petition with the International Trade Commission (ITC) to place tariffs on all imported solar cells, the solar industry was thrown into uncertainty. Worldwide tariffs are necessary, they argue, because previous tariffs on Chinese and Taiwanese solar products simply shifted manufacturing to other Asian countries. But the Solar Energy Industries Association opposes tariffs because they threaten the health of the majority of the larger industry.
The ITC has decided to review Suniva’s petition and forward a report to the President this November. And what may seem to be a relatively obscure act by a bankrupt manufacturer could send shockwaves through energy markets across the country.
- “Trade officials, and Trump, will consider tariffs”
- “Suniva trade case throws industry into doubt”