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Published on July 25th, 2018 | by Tina Casey

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Damn The US Solar Tariffs, Full Speed Ahead! (#CleanTechnica Interview)

July 25th, 2018 by  


President* Trump’s tariff actions have sent the US solar industry spinning into a deep well of uncertainty, so CleanTechnica sat up and took notice last month when Dublin-based BNRG Renewables announced plans to build its first US solar farms. What a time to dive into the US market, right?

 

Why Now Is The Time For US Solar

BNRG has already begun construction on 10 projects totaling 35 megawatts in Oregon, and another 115 megawatts are in the development pipeline for Maine.

Those two states are far from the best when it comes to prime solar resources in the US, so what gives?

In an exclusive email interview with CleanTechnica,  BNRG Director David Maguire explains:

CleanTechnica: What attracted BNRG to the US solar market?

Maguire: BNRG had an office in Miami to service our Caribbean activity. We had a watching brief for the USA but felt the market was limited to a few states and overcrowded in those states.

The hurdles to entry in the US are material and we could not have just dipped our toe in. When the ICT was extended by the Obama Administration, we took the decision to enter the market. This represented a strong signal from policy makers and gave us confidence to invest.

CleanTechnica: Specifically, what attracted BNRG to Maine and Oregon, which are outside of the prime solar regions in the US?

Maguire: BNRG tends to look three or four years ahead and considers what technology and cost will be at that time. We consider each State as a separate market. We form a view on where the power market is likely to be and where the technology is likely to be. This often opens up potential in markets that are less crowded and have better site potential as a result.

As we have designed and constructed over 115MW in Europe and much in ‘gray sky’ countries, we were very comfortable in developing (technology selection, etc) in Oregon and Maine.

CleanTechnica: What (if any) are your plans for the US beyond 2020?

Maguire: More of the same, but on bigger scale. We are currently considering further opportunities in NE Coast, PGM territory and Texas. We would hope to develop and construct over 500MW by 2022.

CleanTechnica: How (if at all) does China’s pullback on solar installations affect BNRG?

Maguire: There is a far greater impact from the solar duties, trade tariffs in solar, steel and aluminum imposed by the Trump Administration. As a result, less projects will be delivered, less jobs will be created and ultimately the US citizens will have to pay more from power generated by solar.

Prior to the imposition of tariffs in the US, only 30% to 35% of the content on utility projects was the actual solar panel. The balance was local or regional content. The tariffs don’t make any logical sense.

In any event we use 72 cell modules which were never manufactured in the US so we were always going to have to import. Bear in mind 80% of the global solar panel supply is manufactured in SE Asia and China….you cannot compete against this scale.

The potential oversupply in China early next year will impact on global prices and will soften the negative impact of the US tariffs. So ultimately this is positive for BNRG….but it is an 18 month cycle. The long term trajectory of pricing remains.

Working The Global Solar Levers

As Maguire describes it, BNRG’s selective dive into the US market dovetails with a global strategy of hedging against political uncertainty.

The company currently has 300 megawatts in the pipeline in the Republic of Ireland and another 14MW completed in Northern Ireland.  Along with its US moves, BNRG is also developing projects in Australia and it recently opened an office in Singapore.

In a recent press statement, Maguire explained that, “the strategy of the Company is to be active in a number of counties at the same time to mitigate against political or regulatory uncertainty and to ensure that you always have assets under development, construction and operation at any one moment in time.”

Solar In The USA, State By State

Back in the US, the BNRG strategy reflects an unfortunate reality. In the absence of support and leadership from the White House, state-level policies will make or break the pace of PV solar development.

That was true before Trump imposed the new tariff on imported photovoltaic modules, and it will continue to hold force even when the PV tariff shrivels down to nothing after 2021.

The tension between rooftop PV stakeholders and large-scale solar stakeholders also throws another element of uncertainty into the mix.

With that in mind, BNRG’s choice of Maine and Oregon comes into sharper focus. Both states have less-than-optimal solar conditions, which squeezes the market for rooftop solar. In Maine, large-scale developers also recently gained a sharper edge over rooftop solar thanks to a new net metering policy backed by the state’s conservative governor.

Regardless of where net metering goes in Oregon, a massive new PV farm planned for the central part of the state indicates that there is plenty of room for companies like BNRG to grow.

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*As of this writing.

Photo (cropped): via BNRG.


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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