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Tariffs dim US solar prospects

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-29 09:24

Tariffs imposed by the US government on imported solar cells and panels not only hinder the industry's growth but also hurt jobs and threaten clean energy goals, said a US official and alternative-energy advocates.

Having struggled with the impact of the tariffs for nearly two years, the solar industry in the United States has been dealt a fresh blow: The US government last month rescinded a tariff exclusion for bifacial solar panels after it had been granted in June.

The solar panels are now subject to the current 25 percent tariffs. Early last year, the US government imposed tariffs of 30 percent on foreign-made solar products. Those tariffs are set to decline by 5 percent each year through 2022.

Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine is concerned that the uncertainty surrounding the tariffs has created challenges for the state's working families by threatening well-paid jobs. Many states across the country are facing similar uncertainties with respect to their top industries, he said.

"Green energy and the development of more sustainable technologies are on the rise here in Nevada. Our state currently leads the nation and in solar power potential. It has installed more than 3,500 megawatts of solar power," said Conine.

Nevada in April became the fourth US state to commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, but that goal has also been challenged by Trump's solar tariffs.

"Nevada homes and businesses that run on solar power depend on photovoltaic cells, and more than 60 percent of them come from China," said Conine.

"While Nevada remains committed to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, our respective governments must work together to foster a renewed commitment to sustainability."

The US government's tariffs, which were intended to generate new jobs, have met with criticism from industry advocacy groups, which argue that higher costs and uncertainty surrounding the added tariffs would lead to job losses.

Their argument is backed by the latest census of The Solar Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group.

The US solar industry employed 10,000 fewer solar workers in 2017 and 8,000 fewer in 2018, marking two years in a row that employment in the solar industry has dropped after seven years of steady job growth, according to the Solar Jobs Census. The US government began considering tariffs in the first half of 2017.

The census shows California, which dominates the US solar market, saw the greatest job loss in the sector in 2018, with a decline of nearly 10,000 positions. It was followed by Massachusetts and North Carolina.

Since the tariffs were imposed, some major solar companies have seen their stock prices drop. Shares in SunPower and First Solar, which are solar manufacturers and developers, have plunged 45 percent and 40 percent, respectively, over the year, according to The Solar Foundation.

Coupled with the effect from tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, the uncertainty has hurt utility-scale development the most, as billions of dollars of new solar projects have been postponed and installations scaled back, according to the foundation.


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