A leading solar industry trade group decried President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on imported solar modules and panels, saying the move will result in job losses in the U.S.
However, a Riviera Beach-based solar panel manufacturer could benefit and experience increased demand.
The tariffs set to take effect Feb. 7 and resulting costlier imported panels and modules are also expected to increases costs for utility-scale solar projects such as Florida Power & Light’s, and for rooftop solar for homes and businesses, industry experts say.
“We are not happy with this decision. We think it is not the right move for the U.S. economy, energy or U.S. manufacturing — 23,000 workers are likely to lose their jobs,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association, said Tuesday in a conference call.
In addition, the decision will result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments, Hopper said. The tariffs won’t create adequate solar cell or panel manufacturing to meet U.S. demand.
The administration’s decision followed the International Trade Commission’s 4-0 vote last year that found cheap imported solar panels and modules have hurt U.S.-based panel manufacturers. The tariffs start at 30 percent in the first year, decline to 25 percent in the second, 20 percent in the third and 15 percent in the fourth.
The petition was filed last April by Suniva, a bankrupt U.S. solar manufacturer with a China-based majority owner. The case was also joined by SolarWorld Americas, formerly a German company that is now owned by a Qatar holding company.
The issue has pitted U.S-based solar manufacturers against installers who say the cheap panels imported mostly from China and Southeast Asia have boosted solar installations.
Tim Drappi, director of business development, SolarTech Universal, Riviera Beach, Florida’s only solar photo-voltaic panel manufacturer, said that the tariffs should enable the company to be on a level playing field with its Asian competition as the cost of domestic and imported panels becomes more equal.
The tariff was split into two segments: modules and cells, Drappi said. All solar photo-voltaic modules — or panels — will be charged the full tariff, with no exemptions. However, up to 2.5 billion watts of cells will be exempt from the tariff. SolarTech imports cells and has an annual capacity of about 80 million watts.
Drappi said the tariff may have a positive, localized, short-term impact micro-economically, but the long-term costs such as fewer solar fields and more dependence on fossil fuels, may outweigh the short-term benefits.
“Increased cost for panels will most certainly eliminate some larger-scale utility projects,” Drappi said.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy weighed in Tuesday, condemning the tariff decision.
“SACE is disappointed that the President felt compeled to manipulate the solar market,” said Bryan Jacob, solar program director. “This maneuver will increase the cost of solar and slow growth in one of the most vibrant segments of the U.S. economy.”
“I’ll be rather surprised if this decision will revive Suniva and SolarWorld,” Jacob said. “Some of the international competitors may set up domestic manufacturing but I suspect it will be short-lived —likely while the tariff is high and while the solar Investment Tax Credit is also high.”
“Companies in the U.S. who make thin-film solar will likely benefit from the decision. Since the tariffs only apply to crystalline silicon technology, developers may shift to installing thin-film instead,” Jacob said.
Jacob said there are an estimated 2 to 3 gigawatts of solar modules warehoused in the U.S. already. That’s about 25 percent of what the industry will need for this year.
Both Juno Beach-based FPL, the state’s largest electric utility, and St. Petersburg-based Duke Energy Florida — its second largest — are adding more utility-scale solar plants and were asked what the impact of the tariffs might be.
FPL spokesman Stephen Heiman said in a statement Tuesday, “At this time, we have no comment on the solar tariff decision.”
FPL officials have said over the last couple of years that the lower cost of solar panels and its increased expertise are among the reasons the company has been able to build more solar plants.
Duke Energy Florida spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said in a statement, “We are planning a significant number of projects across our commercial and regulated businesses, and this includes Florida, given our focus on solar in our rate settlement announced last August.
“The imposition of this tariff will increase customer costs and once more details are known, we will evaluate projects in Florida to be sure they are executed consistent with our state rules and with our customers’ best interest. We will continue to invest in this resource on behalf of our customers as we minimize the tariff’s adverse impacts while supporting the growth of renewable energy,” Gibbs said.