Trump Just Announced a Plan that Could Cripple the Solar Industry

His action follows a controversial trade case that was decided last fall.

Olivier Douliery/Zuma

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Despite President Trump’s best efforts in 2017 to make fossil fuels great again, solar has kept booming. But now comes bad news: Trump is slapping a 30 percent tariff on imported panels, a move that experts say is poised to hurt an industry that has seen its costs drop dramatically the past decade largely because of cheap imports from China. 

As I’ve reported:

It’s not just environmentalists and advocacy groups that oppose stemming the flow of cheap imported panels. Most of the US solar industry lined up against Suniva and SolarWorld, after seeing the costs of installed solar per watt decline dramatically the past 10 years. About 98 percent of the industry now relies on these imports, “with more than a third of them from China,” where production costs are cheaper, reports InsideClimate News. These cheaper costs have made solar competitive with fossil fuels, in some cases even outcompeting conventional sources. That’s what solar installers say is responsible for the boom in utility-scale solar plants and rooftop solar.

A number of conservative and industry-aligned groups like Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council also came out against tariffs on solar imports.

This decision follows a controversial trade case that the US International Trade Commission decided last fall. In a 4-0 decision, they concluded that these cheap imports posed an “injury” on two panel manufacturers, Suniva and SolarWorld. Trump’s 30 percent tariff will be incrementally lowered to 15 percent over four years, a similar move to what the ITC recommended—and still lower than the 50 percent Suniva and SolarWorld sought in their complaint.

There may be some hope for the vast majority of the US solar industry that lined up against this case. Foreign manufacturers will likely appeal the decision to the World Trade Organization, though the issue could take years to resolve—long enough to derail any short-term plans for solar’s unimpeded growth. The US may not be seeing the same job expansion in solar—one in 50 jobs created in 2016—anytime soon.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.