Republican senators send letter of concern to Biden on solar tariff moratorium


Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced a 24-month pause on all solar goods tariffs related to the ongoing antidumping/anti-circumvention (AD/CVD) investigation into Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, which are alleged of shipping tariff-dodging Chinese products.

About 80% of the US supply of crystalline-silicon modules are shipped from the four countries. AD/CVD tariffs can be as high as 50-250%, a level of risk and uncertainty that was too much for the US solar industry to bear. Many projects were cancelled and delayed as a result. After the investigation was announced, it essentially halted utility-scale solar buildout, and the Solar Energy Industries Association cut its deployment forecast for the year by 46%.

The move by the Biden Admin paved the way for supply contracts to get signed, prices to get better estimates, and factories and shipments from the four nations under investigation to get back on track. Concurrent with the two-year pause was a series of executive actions by the White House to boost US solar manufacturing, including invoking the Defense Production Act and giving US solar goods “super preference” status in federal procurement.

“Most people feel this was a positive move and very helpful to managing some of the challenges on the table right now,” Paul Wormser, vice president of technology with Clean Energy Associates told pv magazine.

However, nine Republican senators disagree with this sentiment generally shared by the US solar industry, as they recently sent a letter of concern to President Biden about the effects of this pause on tariffs. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) led the effort. He resides in Ohio, the location of First Solar’s new $680 million, 3.33 GW US solar module manufacturing plant. First Solar was among the loudest voices in the industry’s minority opposition to the moratorium.

Portman was joined by senators Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) in singing the letter to Biden.

“Already the United States is over-reliant on China for solar power. Currently, 80 percent of our solar panels come from China or Chinese companies, and this reliance is not market-based. China has used a variety of anti-free market practices, such as industrial subsidies, to come to dominate the solar sector,” read the letter.

“We cannot afford to trade dependence on Russian energy for that of Chinese solar panels. It is counter to the national interest to rely on our adversaries for our energy needs,” it continued.

The letter continued that the Department of Commerce’s investigation is a quasi-judicial process and that the pause is “disfiguring” the legal process as a result of political pressure and climate activism. The investigative process was launched when Auxin Solar, a California-based US solar module maker with a very small manufacturing capacity filed a petition.

The senators wrote that the use of an emergency declaration to enact the moratorium was an overreach. They argue that “food, clothing, and medical, surgical, and other supplies for use in emergency relief work,” are the only means for emergency declaration, and that the emergency declaration “translates those words into the language of climate catastrophe.”

The US Department of Agriculture said climate change is likely to diminish continued progress on global food security through production disruptions that lead to local availability limitations and price increases, interrupted transport conduits, and diminished food safety, among other causes. A recent report by Deloitte said the US could stand to lose $3 trillion if there is inaction on decarbonizing our economy. The report said over the next 50 years, nearly 900,000 jobs could disappear each year due to climate damage.

Despite this, the coalition of senators “are disappointed that the climate change agenda has proven to be an effective means to pre-empt and nullify the legitimate claims of U.S. workers and industry before they can be fully considered through the ongoing investigation by your Department of Commerce.”

The letter can be read in full here.

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