Earlier this year, US-based solar panel manufacturer Suniva filed for bankruptcy protection, but then it also filed—on behalf of an investor—for tariffs on imported solar. Since then industry advocates have spoken out against the tariffs and only SolarWorld supported the actions. But now, US-based SunPower CEO, Tom Werner, is speaking out against the tariffs as well.
“With America’s energy future in mind, President Donald Trump’s Administration has a unique opportunity to embrace a solar sector that is helping to grow our nation’s economy, creating high-paying jobs and reinforcing a competitive free market,” Werner wrote in a post on SunPower’s blog. He identified himself as a Republican and explained why he thought the tariffs a bad decision to move forward with.
“Unfortunately, a new trade action by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) would move the United States away from a free market and toward regulated solar markets that prevailed in the past. Proposed tariffs of 40 cents per watt on solar cells and a minimum price of 78 cents a watt on solar photovoltaic (PV) modules would drive up prices for solar panels for residential consumers, corporate customers and electric utilities,” Werner wrote. “This is after prices have dropped significantly over the last five years. The cost of PV modules dropped nearly 34 percent in just the first half of 2016, according to GTM Research.”
SunPower, which manufactures solar panels in the US, as well as overseas, is in a unique position. The company could feasibly benefit from some of the tariffs as US-based manufacturer but could also be hit by some of the tariffs as an international manufacturer of solar panels.
The only US-based PV manufacturer to support Suniva and the trade case is SolarWorld US. It’s parent company, SolarWorld AG, declared insolvency earlier this year because it could not compete with the inexpensive imports from other countries like China. However, its US operations continue, and it’s still producing panels in the US.
Still Werner’s opinion should ring true as he mentioned at least five ways he thinks the tariffs will hurt the US solar industry. He said it would hurt the US’ ability to win in the marketplace, upend companies’ efforts to reduce energy costs, outsource solar demands as companies strive to achieve cleaner energy sources for their operations, reduce the amount of high-paying jobs in the US and stifle US innovation.
In his bullet points he explained that the current low-costs of solar power in the US have made it easier for companies to save money on their energy bills by going solar. If the tariffs are approved, the cost of solar would go up, making it harder for companies to invest in solar locally. At the same time, they could move their investments in renewable energy offshore.
“Economics 101 dictates that there will be a move by many US companies to partner with solar providers overseas in order to meet global energy commitments,” Werner contended. “In short, why would a Fortune 100 organization invest in an uncertain and volatile US market if there’s a more appealing one in Europe or Asia? In doing so, this will hurt all other aspects of the domestic solar supply chain, including steel, glass and aluminum and wiring and cabling, all of which rely on the strength of the US solar market.”
He also argued that the growth in solar industry jobs needs to be considered. “The solar industry employs about 260,000 people in the US, with the number of US solar jobs growing by nearly 25 percent between 2015 and 2016,” Werner said. “Another 10 percent of growth is projected for this year.”
Werner added that the two companies at the center of the ITC petition employ less than 1,000 of the more than 280,000 people in the industry. But the tariffs could have a much larger impact on jobs. Earlier this year the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) warned that the if the Suniva trade case is upheld, 88,000 jobs could be lost.
“America deserves better than putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage in the rapidly growing solar power market. We can continue to lower the price of energy, create jobs, make a point to embrace the free market and show the rest of the world the way when it comes to innovation,” Werner argued. “This starts by saying ‘no’ to restrictive solar tariffs.”Tweet