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Fate of U.S. Solar Industry in Trump's Hands After ITC Ruling

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Fate of U.S. Solar Industry in Trump's Hands After ITC Ruling
U.S. Army Environmental Command/Flickr

The fate of the U.S. solar industry now lies in President Trump's hands after the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled Friday that two bankrupt solar companies, Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based SolarWorld, were harmed economically by cheap imports of panels and cells.

According to POLITICO, Trump is likely to impose tariffs on foreign solar panels to advance his "America First" agenda, to help revive the ailing coal sector and to penalize Chinese solar manufacturers.


The domestic solar industry has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to imported panels mostly from China and other parts of Asia. Consequently, the solar industry warns that a tariff could threaten tens of thousands of U.S. jobs (solar accounted for 1 in 50 new jobs in 2016), drive up prices and cause the number of system installations to plummet.

"Analysts say Suniva's remedy proposal will double the price of solar, destroy two-thirds of demand, erode billions of dollars in investment and unnecessarily force 88,000 Americans to lose their jobs in 2018," Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association said.

"Foreign-owned companies that brought business failures on themselves are attempting to exploit American trade laws to gain a bailout for their bad investments," Hopper said about Suniva, whose majority owner is in China, and SolarWorld Americas, a subsidiary of Germany's SolarWorld.

A bipartisan group of governors from Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina also spoke against the levy.

"The requested tariff could inflict a devastating blow on our states' solar industries and lead to unprecedented job loss, at steep cost to our states' economies," they wrote in a letter.

"At a time when our citizens are demanding more clean energy, the tariff could cause America to lose out on 47 gigawatts of solar installations, representing billions of dollars of infrastructure investment in our states."

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, issued a similar statement.

"This decision gives President Trump and his fossil fuel allies a blank check to crush the solar revolution that we are experiencing in the United States," he said. "The surge in wind and solar deployment that is happening across the United States is the greatest force for blue-collar job creation in a generation. But with the solar tax credits expiring in four years, we must do everything we can to support the growth of solar investments and installations and the tens of thousands of jobs that come with them. President Trump should not use this decision as an excuse to kill the solar industry under the guise of domestic manufacturing."

Furthermore, Trump's decision could cost affect the American taxpayer, as Bloomberg reported:

"The U.S. offers incentives to encourage people to use clean energy, paying owners of solar-power systems a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the total installation costs. More expensive panels leads to higher costs, and that means taxpayers could be on the hook for about $1.23 billion more, according to an estimate from Cowen & Co. analyst Jeffrey Osborne."

Even the conservative Heritage Foundation is against solar tariffs.

"The tariffs requested by Suniva and SolarWorld will make solar products and services in America more expensive and less competitive by removing inexpensive, often imported choices from other solar companies and their customers," Heritage trade policy analyst Katie Tubb wrote.

Trump, who has vowed to protect U.S. manufacturers from "unfair" imports, has not given a firm decision on the matter following the ITC's 4-0 vote last week.

"The President will examine the facts and make a determination that reflects the best interests of the United States," White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said in a statement. "The U.S. solar manufacturing sector contributes to our energy security and economic prosperity."

Suniva praised the ITC's vote and called on the president to implement a tariff that "prevents China and its proxies from owning the sun."

The ITC will now develop a course of action to recommend to Trump by Nov. 13.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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