Solar Group Says Trump Showed 'Some Restraint' in Tariff Move

(Bloomberg) -- The main U.S. solar trade group that led the lobbying fight against tariffs on imported equipment said the decision announced Monday by the Trump administration could have been worse.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents companies such as rooftop installer Sunrun Inc. and solar panel maker SunPower Corp., said the White House showed self-control in its decision to slap tariffs as high as 30 percent on imports of solar cells and modules.

"It does demonstrate some restraint, some level of understanding that this impact is going to affect jobs and growth for the U.S.," Abigail Ross Hopper, the group’s president and chief executive officer told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. "We were successful in making the case that in order to keep this part of the manufacturing sector healthy and able to grow you need to allow access."

Her remarks come as others have said Trump’s decision to impose four years of tariffs that start at 30 percent in the first year and gradually drop to 15 percent are less than feared, especially given that the president has vowed to retaliate against China and trade policies that he says are leveled against American companies. The duties are also lower than the 35 percent rate the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended in October and less than the 32 cents a watt import duties for solar panels produced outside the U.S. sought by Suniva Inc., the bankrupt U.S. module manufacturer with a Chinese majority owner, that brought case.

It’s "not a death knell by any means," said Scott Sklar, the former head of the Solar Energy Industries Association who now serves as president of The Stella Group Ltd., a strategic clean energy technology firm. He is also vice chairman of the Commerce Department’s Advisory Committee on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.

Still, Hopper said her Washington-based trade group is far from happy with the ultimate decision, which the group said will result in the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs this year and the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments. Preliminary data provided by the group shows that the duties will result in 6.7 gigawatts of lost installations through 2021, starting with 2 gigawatts in 2018 alone.

"I think that this administration really grappled with the understanding that solar is creating jobs," Hopper said. “It’s creating more jobs in the economy than many other industries and certainly many other energy sources."

A 30 percent tariff on modules could increase the cost of residential rooftop solar systems by about 4 percent, the cost of distributed commercial solar projects by approximately 6 percent, and the cost of utility-scale solar projects by about 10 percent, ClearView Energy Partners said in a research note.

"At first blush, it appears that internationalist, free-market advocates within the Administration may have successfully redirected the President away from more aggressive trade remedies that hew to his America First policy platform and persistently strong trade rhetoric," ClearView said.

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