Ecocentricity Blog: Suniva vs. Solar Installers, Round Two

Oct 30, 2017 12:00 PM ET
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Ecocentricity Blog: Suniva vs. Solar Installers, Round Two

Let’s get back up to speed. Remember that blog post I wrote over the summer, talking about how I wouldn’t be buying from Suniva, my local solar cell manufacturer? I’ve got an update for you since then, and it ain’t good news.

On September 22, the International Trade Commission (ITC) issued a finding that the solar cell manufacturing industry in the United States has been seriously injured by cheaper imported solar cells. If you want some simple analysis (beyond what I’m about to write), take a look at this article.

That finding triggers additional hearings, after which the ITC will be making a recommendation to the President of the United States on what tariffs should be imposed on imported solar cells. The ITC’s recommendation is due to be sent to the Oval Office by November 13. What they will recommend, and what the President will decide as a result, is anyone’s guess.

The problem remains the same – the expected tariff would drive up the cost of solar panels in the United States, making renewable energy less competitive in the marketplace while simultaneously harming solar installation jobs. Sure, the tariffs might help protect some solar manufacturing jobs in our country. These jobs are fewer in number, however, than the American jobs on the installation side. So those are the facts. Here comes my grumbling.   Grumble Number 1 – Poor American solar cell manufacturing companies, right? Wrong! Suniva is majority-owned by a Chinese company. And there’s another American company involved, SolarWorld Americas, that is asking for the tariff right along with Suniva. Is that company purely American? Nope. It’s owned by a German parent company. So this potential tariff on imported solar cells is ultimately being driven by foreign companies who are trying to protect their investments in the United States. Confusing? You betcha.   Grumble Number 2 – Assuming that a tariff is coming, and that it will meaningfully increase the cost of installed solar in the United States, I can guarantee you that the narrative story from some sectors will be misleading. People who are opposed to or skeptical of solar and renewables won’t talk about this tariff. They’ll simply say something like, “See, the cost of solar just jumped! People are wrong when they say it will get cheaper and cheaper.”   Grumble Number 3 – Renewables have arrived. They are now cheaper and more environmentally friendly than any fossil fuel electricity generation at a global scale. Reliability gets better and better as well, and breakthroughs in batteries could solve the “base load” conundrum permanently. Anyone who says that renewables aren’t the relatively near future isn’t paying attention. So I find myself rather frustrated that it’s an internal dispute within the solar industry itself that could cause it to take a step back.   The cloud will soon be lifted, one way or another. Within the next few months, we’ll see if the cost of installed solar in the United States will in fact jump way up. I hope that some way, somehow, Suniva and SolarWorld are on the losing side of this tariff dispute.