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SOLAR VERSUS TARIFFS: The U.S. solar industry is working a multi-front campaign against tariffs on imported cell and module products in an effort to maintain a high rate of growth and carry its load towards President Joe Biden’s climate targets.
Most recently, that’s involved the Solar Energy Industries Association — which represents 1,000 firms ranging from racking, silicon, and module manufacturers to panel installers and steel companies — warning Biden against extending Trump-era tariffs on solar cell and module imports that come in from mostly Asian countries.
The U.S. International Trade Commission this week recommended that Biden extend the tariffs to protect domestic manufacturing of cells and modules. Moving forward with the tariffs would extend a “job-killing” policy, SEIA said in response, and the group’s top trade expert disputes that they boost manufacturing.
“We’ve seen a decade of tariff policy, and we haven’t really built a robust solar supply chain here,” John Smirnow, general counsel and vice president of market strategy for SEIA, told Jeremy, describing a “philosophical difference” between supporters and opponents of the tariffs.
“They don’t do that. They’re not effective at growing manufacturing,” Smirnow added, plugging Democrats’ pending spending bill, which would boost the investment tax credit for panel installs. “If you want to grow manufacturing in the U.S., you need long-term federal investments and the type of investments that we see in the Build Back Better Act.”
Data bear that out. U.S.-manufactured solar photovoltaic modules are projected to total 5.2 gigawatts this year, as compared to 27.8 gigawatts from imports, per data from Rystad Energy. Also, data from USITC’s report accompanying its recommendation found that import volumes of the products rose at a rate many orders of magnitude larger than manufacturing of products in the U.S. between 2018 and 2020.
The boost the industry is seeing due to those imports has put it in a position of being “as strong as it’s ever been,” Smirnow said, which would seem to undercut SEIA’s argument that the tariffs pose a major threat to growth — something Smirnow acknowledged.
“That’s a complicated narrative, right? ‘You’re doing well, you’re growing.’ We could be doing much better if we didn’t face all these headwinds, especially these tariffs,” he said.
The other front: USITC’s recommendation came almost exactly a month after the Commerce Department rejected requests by a group of anonymous U.S. solar manufacturers that antidumping and countervailing duties be imposed on cell and module imports from Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Petitioners had alleged those countries were functional pass-throughs to get Chinese products to market.
Although Smirnow didn’t deny that the products do utilize wafer inputs from China, he insisted that most of the manufacturing process of cell and module imports from Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam do in fact take place in the respective countries, meaning they don’t deserve being subjected to circumvention tariffs against China.
He said the U.S. government has long held that what ultimately matters for the purpose of determining whether circumvention duties should apply to such products is where the cell itself is manufactured.
“But in the [antidumping] case, the petitioners wanted to throw that out,’ Smirnow said, …….