A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would throw out Trump administration tariffs on imported solar products.
“Under this legislation, duties and tariffs would default back to previous rates and would allow companies that imported any affected solar products under this new tariff to receive retroactive reimbursement,” according to a press release.
The bill (HB 5571) was filed Thursday by Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) as a way to protect renewable energy jobs in her home state. According to Rosen, President Trump's 30 percent tariff on foreign-made solar modules has threatened the stability of Nevada's fast-growing solar industry.
“An attack on solar energy is an attack on the countless hardworking Nevadans who benefit from this growing industry,” Rosen said in a statement. “My new bill will reverse this damaging decision.”
The Protecting Solar Jobs Act was introduced in the House Committee on Ways and Means with backing from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) and Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.).
Sanford, an outspoken critic of the president's protectionist trade agenda, noted that strong solar industry growth has led to more than 7,000 jobs in South Carolina's solar sector — jobs now at risk because of the tariffs.
“A tariff is a tax, and I don't know what good can possibly come as a consequence of stifling the growth of solar power,” Sanford said on Thursday. “Solar power is one of the cheapest and fastest-growing renewable energy sources, and if we are really focused on becoming energy-independent, now is no time to slow its growth.”
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and panels could cause the loss of up to 23,000 American jobs in 2018, as well as delay or erase billions of dollars' worth of solar investments. According to GTM Research, the tariff will cause a roughly 11 percent net reduction in U.S. solar installations from 2018 to 2022 — which translates to a 7.6-gigawatt reduction in installed solar PV capacity over the next five years.
Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO, threw her support behind the new bill.
“This bipartisan legislation is an important step in countering the harmful impact of tariffs on the solar industry,” said Ross Hopper, in a statement. “Across the country, the rise of solar has generated thousands of new jobs and provided communities with clean, sustainable power. It is clear that solar is the energy of choice for Americans and we must do what we can to allow this economic engine to continue to advance here in the U.S.”
Speaking last week at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit, Ross Hopper acknowledged that the solar tariffs were “more a punch to the gut than a complete decapitation.” Still, around 20 solar companies have come forward so far with specific examples of how the tariffs have led to layoffs, stalled investments or project cancellations.
Over the course of this year, the industry will see “what could have been versus what will be,” she said.
According to Morten Lund, partner in the energy group at law firm Stoel Rives, the newly introduced House bill could renew interest in making solar investments in Texas, Utah and other price-marginal markets, if passed. The bill could also lead to the cancellation of proposed new module assembly facilities in the U.S.
That list includes the $50 million factory Chinese manufacturer JinkoSolar plans to build in Florida, and U.S. firm SunPower's plans to acquire solar manufacturer SolarWorld Americas — one of the petitioners in the Section 201 solar trade case.
Shane Skelton, former energy policy adviser to Paul Ryan and partner at consulting firm S2C Pacific, doesn't think the bill is going anywhere.
“I think it has absolutely zero legs,” he said. According to Skelton, free market Republicans are currently laser focused on making changes to NAFTA, and have very little political appetite to push back against the president on solar tariffs.
“I don’t see them spending any political capital or wasting 30 minutes of committee time on this,” he said.
As HB 5571 waits to see further action, a lawsuit against the tariffs brought by Canadian solar companies continues to move forward. At the same time, at least five U.S. trading partners have lodged complaints at the World Trade Organization.
This story was updated to include additional comments.
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