President Trump Signs Controversial Measure to Impose Solar Tariffs

President Trump Signs Controversial Measure to Impose Solar Tariffs

(AP and NECA) — President Donald Trump is signing a measure today imposing tariffs on imported solar-energy components in a bid to help U.S. manufacturers.

The administration is imposing an immediate tariff of 30 percent on most imported solar modules, with the rate declining before phasing out after four years.

The administration says the decision is part of President Trump’s pledge to put American companies and jobs first.

NECA’s CEO, John Grau, issued a statement on today’s decision to impose the tariffs:

The decision by the Trump Administration to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and panels is a step backwards for one of the most promising sectors in the American economy. Solar energy provides good construction and manufacturing jobs and offers valuable products at a low cost to consumers. Unfortunately, this decision will have an immediate and negative impact on job creation in this sector. It also fails to recognize the indirect number of jobs created by solar manufacturing and installation and could put as many as 23,000 jobs at risk this year alone.  

Growth in this sector has afforded electrical contractors everywhere with countless opportunities to successfully create jobs for electricians who install utility scale and roof top solar systems around the country. These are good, middle-class jobs that promote apprenticeship, community-based hiring, and veterans.

It is not the job of the federal government to pick winners and losers in how our nation’s energy portfolio will continue to evolve. This decision, however, will have a chilling effect on owners who are considering utilizing the many benefits solar provides and has put the U.S. solar supply chain at serious risk. Despite these challenges, the electrical construction industry will continue to innovate and provide solutions to power America’s energy and power needs.

— John M. Grau, NECA CEO

The U.S. solar industry is split over the issue. Two small subsidiaries of foreign companies that made solar cells in the U.S. favor tariffs, but a larger number of companies that install solar-power systems say their costs will rise and jobs will be lost.

The Republican’s decision followed recommendations for tariffs by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

“The president’s action makes clear again that the Trump administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses in this regard,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement announcing the decision.

Not everyone agrees the move will work in favor of Americans, including Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse who says his fellow Republicans need to understand that tariffs are a tax on consumers.

China accused President Trump of jeopardizing the multilateral trading system by taking action on complaints under U.S. law instead of through the World Trade Organization.

“The U.S. side once again abused its trade remedy measures,” said a Commerce Ministry statement. “China expresses its strong dissatisfaction with this.”

Mexico said Trump’s decision not to exclude it from the measures was “regrettable.”

“Mexico will use all available legal resources in response to the U.S. decision to apply protections on Mexican washing machines and solar panels,” its Economy Department said in a statement.

The U.S. solar industry was split over the trade barriers.

The tariffs were sought last year by Suniva Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection in April, and the U.S. subsidiary of Germany’s SolarWorld.

They said that a nearly 500 percent increase in imported solar panels over five years led to a ruinous price collapse. Nearly 30 U.S. solar-manufacturing facilities had closed in the past five years, they said, as China plotted to flood the global market with cheap products to weaken U.S. manufacturing.

Suniva spokesman Mark Paustenbach called tariffs “a step forward for this high-tech solar-manufacturing industry we pioneered right here in America.”

However, solar installers and manufacturers of other equipment used to run solar-power systems opposed tariffs, which they said will raise their prices and hurt demand for the renewable energy.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents installation companies, said billions of dollars of solar investment will be delayed or canceled, leading to the loss of 23,000 jobs this year.

Mark Bortman, founder of Exact Solar in Philadelphia, said the prospect of tariffs, since the trade commission recommended them in October, had already caused him to delay hiring and expansion plans.

“Solar is really just starting to take off because it is truly a win-win-win situation” for consumers, workers and the environment, he said. “Tariffs would really be shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Suniva and SolarWorld were helped by a 1974 trade law that lets companies seek trade protection if they can show damage from a rise in imports.

Up to certain levels, imports of solar cells will be exempt from the tariff.

Congress has no authority to change or veto Trump’s decision. Countries affected by the decision can appeal to the World Trade Organization.

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