Solar power was highlighted in last week’s report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as one of our best tools for reducing energy sector emissions. But to avoid catastrophic climate change and achieve the Biden administration’s carbon reduction goals, we must accelerate the pace of solar development. We have been headed in the right direction; solar deployment in the United States was expected to be up to 21.5 GW in 2022 despite supply chain issues, surpassing last year’s record.
Now is not the time to slow down solar deployment, but that’s the threat of the circumvention case that the Department of Commerce is considering on imports of crystalline silicon PV modules and cells from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. An affirmative ruling by Commerce on the petition would have a devastating effect on this growing industry.
In fact, the effects are already being felt. Because Commerce could impose tariffs retroactively, many manufacturers have already halted shipments to the US. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) heard alarming news from the industry in an overwhelming response to a survey distributed last week.
Solar projects rely on long-term policy certainty, so even the threat of a change can have profound impacts. Early responses from the survey show that real damage to the industry is happening now as a result of the petition. At stake are tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars, and our nation’s ability to address climate change. SEIA estimates that the petition could result in the solar industry losing 70,000 of its 231,000 jobs.
An affirmative ruling by Commerce on the petition would not boost US manufacturing. Previous trade cases have led to job losses but have had little to no impact on domestic manufacturing, which is a long game. It takes years to get a manufacturing plant approved and running, and the solar industry, which is already dealing with ongoing supply chain issues, needs a steady supply of modules now.
While most solar jobs are in installation and related areas, not in manufacturing — which is being increasingly automated — it is indeed worthwhile to support domestic manufacturing to reduce our reliance on imports. But this petition is not the answer. Instead, we should pursue effective ways to promote domestic manufacturing that include long-term federal investment. The solar industry is currently pushing for legislation to substantially increase solar deployment while also establishing a strong solar manufacturing supply chain. That’s where we should be putting our effort as an industry.
The solar industry has enough obstacles without creating new ones. Despite the unprecedented nature of this threat, as a larger company, Standard Solar is in an excellent position to weather this storm. We have experienced numerous ups and downs and will survive. But we are only as strong as the industry as a whole. We should all be working together to make our industry more robust, not taking actions that could tear it down.
Commerce should be part of that effort. The Department’s mission is “to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity for all communities.” Instead, by considering this petition, Commerce is contributing to the single biggest threat the growing solar industry has ever faced.
Even the COVID pandemic did not devastate the industry as this case could, but the petition’s threat is compounded by coming at a time when solar is already strained. Supply chain and trade issues slowed installation in Q4 2021, resulting in 3GW less than expected in utility scale solar deployments. According to SEIA, even before this case, the nation’s module supply was expected to run at least 8GW short for expected growth and potentially 16GW short over the next few years.
Commerce previously ruled that a similar trade petition had no merit, so it’s unclear why it’s considering the current petition, which is based on the false claim that solar cell manufacturing is a minor or insignificant operation in the named countries. The Department has a choice now: move forward with a baseless petition that will result in massive job losses and set back our clean energy goals or fix its mistake by immediately issuing a negative preliminary determination. Speed is of the essence to reverse the harmful effects already being felt.
We need to deploy 70 GW of solar a year in the next few years to achieve President Biden’s climate goals; according to SEIA, we will fall short by 20 GW this year. It doesn’t make sense for the U.S. government to pursue an action that runs so contrary to its own goals.
Standard Solar stands with thousands of solar companies and hundreds of thousands of solar workers in calling on Commerce and the Biden administration to immediately put an end to this grave threat to the solar industry and allow us to proceed with accelerating the transition to clean energy.
Responses to SEIA’s survey on the petition can be submitted here.
Scott Wiater is president & CEO of Standard Solar.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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