A bill, HR 5571, has been introduced to Congress with a goal of repealing the 30% tariff applied to all imported solar panels and some solar cells. Additionally, the bill calls for refunds for any companies that have paid tariffs.
Last week U.S. Representative Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) introduced the Protecting American Solar Jobs Act. Four other representatives have signed on to the bill as co-sponsors: Jared Huffman from California, Mark Sanford and Ralph Norman from South Carolina, and Steve Knight from California. Huffman is a Democrat, but the other three are members of the Republican Party.
In introducing the bill, the representative from Nevada focused her comments on the economic benefits of solar power – “new jobs, cheaper power bills, and the growth of a new industry that is diversifying our state’s economy”. The Nevada solar industry lost 1,800 solar jobs in 2017, which was widely attributed to changes to net metering imposed by state regulators.
Sanford commented that, “The saying in Washington is that if you want less of something, tax it. A tariff is a tax.”
The Section 201 tariff was described by its proponents as a means to save American jobs in the struggling cell and module manufacturing sector. However, from pv magazine‘s own calculations the new module factories and expansions announced this year will provide less than 1,000 jobs. Even Jinko Solar’s new solar panel assembly plant in Jacksonville, Florida – by far the largest such facility announced since the Section 201 process began – is expected to employ only 200 workers.
By contrast the jobs lost as a result of the tariffs will be much harder to count, but could be many times those gained. In 2017 the United States saw its first year-over-year loss in solar jobs in eight years or more, although the consensus of experts is that this contraction was due to a natural recalibration after the boom in 2016 in due to the scheduled drop-down of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC).
The real question is whether a bill like this will get traction. Will the Republican-led House of Representatives consider a bill to directly contradict a Republican President who campaigned on promises of fighting for tariffs against nations such as China who many blame for American job losses? Solar power is very popular, and as the industry expands the jobs have spread across many political boundaries.