SEIA warns of 23,000 solar job losses due to tariffs

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For the last nine months, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has been fighting against trade action on imported solar products tooth and nail. This has included representing their members in the solar industry at every major hearing, mobilizing a wide range of elected officials and regulators to speak out against proposed trade sanctions, social media campaigns, solar jobs marches, and even hiring Sean Hannity to record a radio spot featuring his special brand of political mythology.

The aggregate of these actions appears to have been successful. Import duties on imported solar are not nearly as severe as the proposals by Suniva and SolarWorld, and certainly not what we in the industry thought we would see when Trump called for his chief of staff to “bring me some tariffs”.

However, along with GTM Research’s prediction that the U.S. solar market will be 11% smaller over the next few years than if tariffs were not imposed, SEIA is warning that the industry will also see a loss of 23,000 jobs.

On a conference call today, SEIA President and CEO Abigail Hopper warned of “job losses up and down the value chain”, including U.S. manufacturing jobs. This is based on an analysis of market impacts by IHS Markit, which SEIA ran through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) JEDI modeling system.

This is far less than the 88,000 jobs that SEIA warned would be lost if Trump enacted the trade protections that Suniva called for in its petition to the International Trade Commission, and represents both the lower tariff levels in the final decision as well as exempting the first 2.5 GW of cells each year from tariffs.

SolarWorld and Suniva have consistently disputed SEIA’s claims of job losses, noting that past warnings of job losses in the 2012 and 2014 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations did not materialize.

“We think these forecasts are alarmist and unhelpful as we work to restore the manufacturing industry,” Ben Santarris, SolarWorld’s head of corporate communication, told pv magazine. “We think the opposite is true – we think that demand will grow.”

It is unclear if the tariffs will accomplish their stated purpose of spurring new cell and module manufacturing, and it is hardly a surprise that the two sides of this case differ in their forecasts. While Santarris said that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the case for new cell factories in the United States, analysts whom pv magazine has spoken with are more skeptical, and SEIA’s Hopper described the tariffs as “not even the right move for U.S. manufacturing”.

At the time of writing this article the text of the actual Section 201 decision had not been released, and SEIA noted that it was too early to talk much about next steps. SEIA CEO Hopper noted that after she is able to actually read the proclamation, next steps will be to “think creatively with our companies and with our allies”.

Under statute, the Section 201 decision must be imposed 15 days after the transmission of Trump’s decision to Congress, however the government shutdown could delay the implementation date of February 6. Additionally Congress has the ability to force exemptions in the decision for nations with which the United States holds free trade agreements, including Canada, Mexico and Singapore.