Reuters is reporting that President Donald J. Trump, who during the 2016 campaign slammed solar as being “too expensive” and saying it “didn’t work”, will soon announce whether he will impose sanctions on foreign module production in response to a trade complaint filed last year by bankrupt module manufacturer Suniva and later joined by SolarWorld.
The president has until January 26 to issue his final decision on the tariffs, but his interview with the news service suggests it may come much earlier. Trump declined to tell Reuters what his final decision will be (to keep suspense high until the final reveal), but he did not hold back when asked about his feelings on the foreign manufacturers.
“You know, they dump ’em – government-subsidized, lots of things happening – they dump the panels, then everybody goes out of business,” the president told Reuters.
Reuters estimates that about 14% (36,400) of the solar industry’s 260,000 jobs are in manufacturing. It should be noted those are not all module manufacturing jobs – at least 6,000 are in the racking-and-mounting segment of the industry, for example.
Additionally, such tariffs will have a mixed effect on most existing U.S. module makers. Among the 17 companies identified by pv magazine as having crystalline silicon module production in the United States, 15 do not produce cells internally and are dependent upon merchant cell production, which currently does not exist in the United States, Canada, Mexico or Singapore. This means that any cells they procure will be subject to tariffs, at least until Suniva’s cell lines come back online, and those will only serve a small portion of the market.*
Despite this, two U.S. module makers have announced expansion plans. Additionally, the city of Jacksonville, Florida is negotiating with a Tier 1 global PV maker who is asking for incentives to locate solar manufacturing in the city.
Yesterday, SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper begged the president to see the tariff debate in the wider context of overall U.S. job creation.
“A decision to impose high tariffs in line with the International Trade Commission’s recommendation will lead to the layoff of tens of thousands of workers, cause companies to stop investing in the United States and bring an American economic engine screeching to a halt,” Hopper wrote in a letter sent directly to Trump.
“American companies manufacture, among other things, steel and aluminum racking systems, inverters and tracking devices. Raising solar prices, as these tariffs would do, would reduce demand for those downstream products and kill manufacturing jobs.”
Additionally New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich went on to the president’s favorite communication platform, Twitter, to urge Trump to reject solar tariffs.
“Hundreds of locally-owned companies, hundreds of thousands of workers, and billions of dollars in investment in communities in New Mexico and across the country hang in the balance of President Trump’s solar tariff decision,” Heinrich wrote. “President Trump has an opportunity to actually stand up for American workers. I hope he will look at the bigger picture of the American solar industry and reject solar tariffs.”
* Editor’s note: The issue of the impact of potential tariffs on U.S. module makers will be explored in greater detail in pv magazine‘s upcoming February print edition.