Trump Moves to Increase Solar Import Tariffs, Kill Bifacial Exemption

A presidential proclamation released by the White House this
weekend would increase tariffs on imported solar cells and modules
in the last current year of the tariffs and eliminate an exemption
for two-sided solar panels, which the administration argued has
“impaired the effectiveness” of the tariffs.

Trump also directed the U.S. Trade Representative to assess
whether the duties, established in 2018 under Section 201 of the
1974 Trade Act, should be extended. Tariffs are currently set to
expire in 2022.

The American solar industry has thus far managed to live with
the challenges brought by the solar tariffs.�Though tariffs, which
began at 30 percent in 2018, made some imported panels more
expensive, large-scale solar installations have continued to climb
since they were established. Several manufacturers also set up shop
in the U.S., encouraged by the potential to sell products to
developers tariff-free.

But increasing the tariffs from 15 to 18 percent in 2021 and
extending their duration could pose difficulties for domestic solar
installers as the coronavirus pandemic restrains the industry’s

overall growth
.

Eliminating the exemption for bifacial solar panels — which
the Trump administration has
tried to do repeatedly
— may have more significant
ramifications. Developers have increasingly relied on bifacial
modules due to their higher efficiency and only marginally higher
cost.

The Trump administration previously tried to revoke its bifacial
exclusion through the U.S. Trade Representative but was
rebuffed
by the United States Court of International Trade
after challenges by several solar players, including Invenergy and
the Solar Energy Industries Association. Under the presidential
proclamation, the exclusion would disappear 15 days from the
order’s publication on Oct. 10, though the move is still open to
legal challenge.

SEIA told Greentech Media it would “consider every optionâ€
to reverse the administration’s decision. Invenergy did not
respond to request for comment about whether it was likely to
challenge this most recent executive action.

The proclamation comes just weeks ahead of the 2020 election,
but Trump’s move may have lasting impact even if his reelection
bid is unsuccessful. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has tied clean
energy to economic recovery amid the pandemic and set a target for
the United States to reach 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, a
goal that would rely significantly on a large-scale build out of
solar.

Depending on the terms of a possible tariff extension from the
U.S. Trade Representative, however, Biden may have limited
authority to pull back solar tariffs (it’s also
not certain
that a Democratic presidency would oppose solar
tariffs).

SEIA, the industry’s largest trade group, continues to oppose
the duties. Doubling down on tariffs in the current economic
environment “counters critical needs of our country,†said
Abigail Ross Hopper, the group’s president and CEO, in a
statement emailed to GTM.

“Aspects of this policy may also run counter to law. Since the
administration imposed solar tariffs, we have fought to delay the
termination of the bifacial solar panel exemption. And we have
suggested many, more constructive, ways to expand American
manufacturing, including targeted tax policy and suggestions for
growing the whole solar supply chain in a way that would
meaningfully create jobs and fuel the economy,†said Hopper. 

Despite SEIA’s stance, tariffs have divided the solar
industry. While the approach is favored by companies who have U.S.
manufacturing bases, such as Hanwha Q Cells, solar developers
largely oppose them.

Increasing and extending tariffs would provide a boost
to domestic manufacturers, said Xiaojing Sun, a senior solar
analyst at Wood Mackenzie, because it will cause prices to increase
for products shipped from Chinese-based companies producing
bifacial, such as Trina and Longi.

In the proclamation, Trump claimed the changes would help
“achieve the full remedial effect envisaged†when the tariffs
were put in place. A midterm review of the duties
completed in February
showed that while tariffs had spurred 3
gigawatts of domestic module manufacturing, the U.S. has been left
without crystalline silicon photovoltaic cell production.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Trump Moves to Increase Solar Import Tariffs, Kill Bifacial
Exemption