The Solar Industry Finds Itself at a Crossroads
The U.S. solar industry is caught in the midst of a civil war of sorts, as one company demands tariffs on imported goods to protect solar manufacturing, while others believe that this will kill thousands of jobs.
The main issue comes down to the solar manufacturing company called Suniva. The company, based out of Atlanta, produced high-efficiency solar cells and modules. It was considered one of the best in the industry, receiving praise from figures within the Obama administration and obtaining accolades like Georgia’s manufacturer of the year.
But Suniva has since filed for bankruptcy protection and claims that it was undersold by cheaper Chinese-built solar panels. The company is now calling on the federal government to protect American manufacturing of solar panels by imposing a tariff to balance production costs.
However, others within the solar industry believe that the tariffs will in fact cost the industry jobs, as the price of solar panels will rise and people will therefore be less likely to purchase the products. This would inevitably lead to a shrinking of the budding industry. Currently, there are an estimated 260,000 people working in the solar industry, with a third of those employees being based out of California.
The opponents also decry the belief that solar manufacturing is on the decline, even though several high-profile producers have since gone bankrupt or made mass layoffs, like Texas solar panel maker Mission Solar Energy LLC did last year, shedding 200 jobs. That said, Mission Solar does not support Suniva’s plan.
The issue may likely come down to President Donald Trump, who has long expressed animosity towards China, saying that the country has beaten the U.S. in trade deals and takes advantage of free trade agreements. Trump has gone on record saying that he may impose tariffs that would help protect U.S. workers, he believes, although others believe that tariffs would hurt the economy.
Another knot in this proceeding is the president’s view on solar. He has written before that he believes that climate change is a hoax concocted by the Chinese, and that revitalizing coal and gas companies are among his priorities.
How the president ultimately settles this solar dispute—if he chooses to engage at all—will have far-reaching effects on thousands of jobs, but also on the future of energy production and availability in the country.
“The trade flap roiling the solar industry — and Trump may have the final word,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 3, 2017.