WASHINGTON — President Biden announced Friday that he would extend tariffs on imported solar products first imposed during the Trump administration but would reduce the scope of products affected by the levies, a decision aimed at balancing his goals for bolstering domestic manufacturing with speeding up the transition toward clean energy.
The decision will impose a tariff of between 14 percent and 15 percent for the next four years on imported crystalline silicon solar products that are used to convert sunlight to energy. But the Biden administration also moved to double the amount of solar cells that can come into the country without facing tariffs, and it said it would begin talks with Canada and Mexico to allow them to export their products to the United States duty-free.
The administration also said it would exempt a certain type of two-sided panel, called bifacial panels, from the levies to help ensure that solar deployment in the United States continues at the pace and scale needed to meet the president’s clean energy targets.
The carve-outs will maintain some protection for domestic industry while also allowing solar energy projects to continue accessing some cheaper foreign solar products. But they also angered some domestic manufacturers and labor leaders, who argued that the administration should be doing more to shield American manufacturers from cheap Chinese products.
Mark Widmar, the chief executive of First Solar, a solar panel manufacturer in the United States that had fought for tougher restrictions on imported products, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision and that it would allow China “to outflank American efforts to grow self-reliant solar supply chains.”
“Today’s decision places at risk billions of dollars in existing investment, thousands of jobs, our country’s energy security and a climate-critical transition to net-zero emissions,” he added.
Companies that install solar power projects using foreign panels praised the decision to scale back the tariffs.
“Every dollar spent on tariffs means less dollars put toward creating jobs and opportunity in communities,” said George Hershman, the chief executive of SOLV Energy, the nation’s largest utility-scale solar installer. “The bifacial exclusion will help us greenlight projects and deploy more solar capacity across the country.”
The solar industry worked for the last three years to preserve the exclusion of bifacial panels from the tariff, though it had hoped for broader action that would remove the tariffs entirely.
Abigail Ross Hopper, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said her group was disappointed with the decision to extend the tariffs but called the administration’s move a “balanced solution.”
Mr. Biden has pledged to cut U.S. emissions at least 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade, and the administration is counting on solar to play a significant role in reducing emissions from electricity production. A recent Energy Department report found that solar energy could provide up to 40 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2035, compared with its current 4 percent.
But much of the world’s supply of solar panels comes from China — creating a quandary for an administration that has described China as America’s foremost geopolitical and economic competitor.