Sunrise brief: GOP bill aims to ban federal funds to buy solar equipment made in China



Eight Republican Senators introduced a bill that would ban using federal funds to buy solar panels or related equipment from China.

A statement issued by the office of Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said that the “Keep China Out of Solar Energy Act” would require the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to develop “standards and guidelines” to prohibit federal funds from being used to buy solar panels manufactured or assembled “by entities with ties to the Communist Party of China”; require the U.S. Comptroller to submit to Congress a report on the amount of solar panels procured by federal departments and agencies; and require the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to study the domestic solar panel production market and the global supply chain and workforce involved in solar panel production.

Scott was joined in introducing the bill by Marco Rubio (R-FL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Kennedy (R-LA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and John Barrasso (R-WY). The senators cited concerns over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.

In February, House members reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless it is certified they are not produced with forced labor, and allow further sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for alleged abuses against Muslims. The bill last year passed the Democrat-controlled House but stalled in the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has set a June deadline for its member companies to shift supply chains away from the conflict region.

Microgrid for potato grower

Concentric Power is building a $12 million 5.0 MW microgrid for a California-based potato growing, packing, and shipping operation.

The microgrid is designed to include energy generation, distribution, and storage, and will offer islanding capability for continued operations during power outages within the broader utility grid. The project is slated to be completed in the third quarter. As designed, it will include 3.6 MW of cogenerated firm power, 120 kW of solar, and 1.25 MW/625 kWh of lithium-ion battery storage.

Smoke and solar don’t mix

Last year was the most active wildfire season in recent history in Oregon, California, and Washington as measured by acres burned and fire detections, according to analysis by SolarAnywhere researchers Patrick Keelin and Marc Perez. Smoke particles, and more generally aerosols in the atmosphere, diminish the solar radiation available for solar generation.

Smoke and ash particles impact solar production.

Image: NSF/Wikimedia Commons/Rennett Stowe

The researchers said that recent study in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) region found that solar-powered generation during the first two weeks of September 2020—a time when California was heavily impacted by wildfire smoke—was down 13.4% from the year prior despite an increase in total system capacity.

They said that analysis by Clean Power Research quantified the impact of wildfire smoke on solar-powered generation. When North American wildfires peaked in September 2020, aerosols visibly dimmed sunlight across much of the region. Total sunlight  for the month was diminished by as much as 20% in some locations. This included California’s Central Valley and parts of the Columbia River Basin (including Portland and Bend) that were hardest hit by the smoke.

Development portfolio sale

SolRiver Capital bought a 45 MW solar development portfolio in the Carolinas from Birdseye Renewable Energy, the second such deal between the two. The first project, located in North Carolina, was completed last year. With its latest purchase, SolRiver will finance, build, own and operate the portfolio of solar projects. In total, this is the fifth acquisition for SolRiver in the Carolinas.

Jobs growth

The latest Paychex | IHS Markit Business Employment Watch shows increases in jobs growth in March across all U.S. regions and nearly all states and metro areas that were analyzed. The Small Business Jobs Index rose to 94.25 in March. And while the index remains 4.03% below its March 2020 level, the measured 0.30% increase was the” most significant one-month gain since 2013.”

Jobs growth improved across all parts of the U.S., as well as in 18 of the 20 states, and 16 of the 20 metros analyzed.

Image: NREL/Dennis Schroeder

Another leading indicator of economic strength, hourly earnings, reached 2.98%, its fourth month of growth. Weekly earnings also increased, rising to 3.58%, which the report said was a result of growth in weekly hours worked.

The March report also showed jobs growth improved across all parts of the U.S., as well as in 18 of the 20 states, and 16 of the 20 metros analyzed. In particular, the South led all regions in small business job growth, and Florida remained the top state for job growth. The promising jobs report could translate into an uptick in orders for solar developers and installers.

More green hydrogen

Plug Power and Brookfield Renewable Partners said they plan to build a green hydrogen production plant in Pennsylvania that will use energy from Brookfield Renewable’s Holtwood hydroelectric facility. Green hydrogen from this facility will be used in the transportation and logistics industries in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic states. The plant is expected to be online by late 2022, with construction slated to begin by in the first quarter of 2022. Once operational, the plant is projected to produce approximately 15 metric-tons of liquid hydrogen per day.

Plug Power also recently announced construction of a green hydrogen production facility and electric substation in the Western New York Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park, joining an existing plant in Tennessee as the initial links in the company’s North American green hydrogen production network.

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