Trump Imposes 30% Imported Solar Tariff, Threatens 23,000 Jobs In 2018

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After 9 months of uncertainty and vitriol, US President Donald Trump has decided this week to impose a 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules in response to a Section 201 trade case filed by Suniva and SolarWorld back in April of 2017, a move which will likely cost 23,000 American jobs this year.

In brief — because I’ve covered the story since June of last year — Chinese-owned and US-based solar manufacturer Suniva filed a Section 201 trade complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC). It was soon joined in the complaint by SolarWorld, and a month later the ITC accepted the complaint and began an Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Investigation.

Since then a near-consensus has built up that introducing tariffs on solar cells and modules would have a catastrophic cost to the US solar industry. In June, the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) claimed that the US solar industry could lose a third of its workforce, or an estimated 88,000 jobs, if the relief sought by Suniva and SolarWorld was granted — in October both companies modified their petition and reduced the relief they were seeking.

The sheer threat of tariffs has already detrimentally impacted the US solar industry, with the cost of solar increasing for the first time in years. In October, GTM Research analyzed the potential impact of tariffs, and it was bad news all around.

On Monday, the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced (PDF) that US President Donald Trump had approved recommendations to provide relief to US manufacturers and impose safeguard tariffs on solar cells and modules (and also imported residential washing machines, but that’s not overly relevant right now). The wording of the announcement serves not to necessarily reflect an accurate picture of the issue at hand but rather to reflect the worldview of those making the decisions.

In the end, Donald Trump approved safeguard tariffs on imported solar cells and modules of 30% for the first year and decreasing 5% each year for the duration of the four-year relief. The first 2.5 GW (gigawatts) of cell imports will be exempt for the duration.

Unsurprisingly, the move has been widely deemed as catastrophic.

Abigail Ross Hopper

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet US demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s President and CEO, who just last week issued a personal plea to Donald Trump to reject high solar tariffs.

Abigail Ross Hopper has been championing opposition to the solar tariff since the beginning, and as the President and CEO of the trade body which represents the US solar industry, this decision must really hurt. Specifically, the SEIA believes that the tariff decision will immediately cost approximately 23,000 American jobs this year, including many in manufacturing, and will subsequently delay or cancel billions of dollars in solar investments.

“It boggles my mind that this president — any president, really — would voluntarily choose to damage one of the fastest-growing segments of our economy,” said Tony Clifford, chief development officer, Standard Solar. “This decision is misguided and denies the reality that bankrupt foreign companies will be the beneficiaries of an American taxpayer bailout.”

“The President’s decision to impose 30 percent tariffs on imported solar cells and modules will have the unfortunate consequence of raising costs for downstream solar customers, including the growing number of leading companies that are sourcing their electricity from renewable resources,” said Malcolm Woolf, SVP of policy at Advanced Energy Economy, (AEE) a national business association, speaking on behalf of the Advanced Energy Buyers Group, a coalition of large energy users convened by AEE. “These cost increases will slow the growth of solar power, which has become an increasingly desirable option for corporate buyers. As they have said in official filings, price matters.”

“The President’s decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on solar cells and modules will raise electricity prices even as it costs jobs in the solar energy sector,” repeated Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO, American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). Make no mistake, this is the government intervening in the marketplace to reduce the expansion of solar energy.”

Indeed, my inbox was inundated this morning with angry responses to President Trump’s decision. Here’s just a sampling of the responses, ranging from trade groups and solar companies across the United States. 

Kevin Steinberger, policy analyst, Climate and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council

“President Trump just placed a huge and unnecessary hurdle in front of an industry that’s hitting its stride. This shortsighted and counterproductive decision couldn’t come at a worse time. We can’t afford to handicap such a critical resource for powering America’s clean energy economy.

“The cost of generating solar energy from rooftop panels has plummeted by more than 85 percent in less than a decade, but President Trump’s action will reverse that progress. Higher-priced panels will dramatically reduce the pace of new solar energy installations, increase climate-changing emissions, and lead to significant job losses nationwide.”

Patrick Maloney, Founder and CEO of Inspire

“Unfortunately, it’s not surprising to see President Trump get into a solar trade fight and impose tariffs. While the tax may seem moderate compared to the rate that Suniva and SolarWorld sought, it will significantly limit solar’s ability to compete in the marketplace. Initial numbers from SEIA project it would eliminate up to 84,000 American jobs by 2020. This continues the war on renewables.

“We’ve already seen foreign solar manufacturers double their shipments in anticipation of tariffs, further proof that the demand for clean energy options is already there. Unfortunately, solar tariffs potentially limit this choice. Renewables aren’t necessarily a substitute for other renewables. If solar gets more expensive, consumers may be left with only fossil fuel options—potentially setting back our progress towards a cleaner energy future.”

Whitney Painter – Owner of Buglet Solar Electric (Golden, Colo.)

“Solar is the cheapest and fastest-growing energy source on the planet, and one of the top sectors of job growth in the US. A solar tariff would cause solar panel prices to spike domestically, and hurt my solar business in Colorado, as it would many other solar businesses across the country. American interests will not be served by using tariffs to decimate our solar industry.”

Ian Skor – Co-founder of Sandbox Solar (Fort Collins, Colo.)

”The decline in solar panel prices has directly contributed to the rise of the solar industry, allowing small business owners like myself to compete with larger corporations. Tariffs would negatively impact this trend of local jobs and our ability to grow. The US solar module manufacturing industry needs to be supported by research, innovation, and greater technology; not competing with regulations.”

Mark Bortman – Founder of Exact Solar (Philadelphia, Penn.)

“The possibility of tariffs on foreign solar panels is a huge weight hanging over our heads. The uncertainty has already forced us to delay hiring and expansion plans. If tariffs or quotas are imposed, layoffs and contractions are a real possibility. Solar is really just starting to take off because it is truly a win-win-win situation. Customers save money on their energy bills, local people get good, high-earning jobs and the environmental benefits are the icing on the cake. Tariffs would really be shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Will Kenworthy – VP of Regional Operations at Microgrid Energy (St. Louis, Mo.)

Increasing costs on businesses and penalizing deployment of on the the world’s cheapest and fastest-growing energy sources should go against the goals of any Administration, but that’s what President Trump has done today with the announcement of the new tariffs.  Solar means more jobs, more energy choice, and more American-made energy.  Today’s decision effectively raises energy prices on households and businesses by making one of their most attractive options more expensive.”

Statement by John Rogers, Senior Energy Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

“This issue has united conservatives and liberals unlike anything else I’ve seen during Mr. Trump’s presidency. Sadly, his decision today burdens states with greater economic costs and attempts to derail clean energy progress.

“President Trump says his intention is to save jobs, but the specifics show this decision is a job killer. The first year of tariffs is high enough to blunt the growth of solar energy in the U.S. and hurt domestic solar jobs, but the package is not nearly enough to give U.S. solar panel manufacturers the ill-conceived walls of protectionism they were looking for.”

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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