Nevada officials applaud Biden’s decision to pause solar panel tariffs, resume imports

Nevada officials applaud Biden’s decision to pause solar panel tariffs, resume imports
Sometimes-steep slopes challenged buildings of Turquoise Solar Project. Image: Apple

by Kingkini Sengupta, Nevada Current

WASHINGTON — Less than four months after announcing the intention to extend tariffs on most solar panels imported from four Southeast Asian nations, President Joe Biden this week announced tariffs on the products would be paused for two years.

The announcement was applauded by Nevada Democratic Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto. Citing harm to Nevada solar power companies reliant on imported solar panels and equipment, both senators had urged the White House to lift the tariffs.

The tariffs were established during the Trump administration. In February the White House announced tariffs on most imported solar panels would remain in place, with the exception of bifacial modules that capture light on both sides and generate more electricity than traditional solar panels.  

Meanwhile, imports had been stalled by U.S Dept. of Commerce probe of whether imports of solar panels from Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand are evading tariffs on goods manufactured in China.

Biden’s move this week to pause solar panels from tariffs for two years was accompanied by a Commerce Dept. statement that “in accordance with the President’s declaration,” imports of panels from those nations would be permitted.

In Nevada, about 83% of solar companies are non-manufacturing, concentrated in installation and maintenance, operations, distribution, and development. Nationally, only 14% of solar jobs are in the manufacturing sector, while 67% of solar jobs are in installation and construction, according to a report from Solar Energies Industries Association (SEIA), the industry’s lobbying arm in Washington. 

Tariffs on solar panels were meant to protect American workers and businesses from import competition and boost domestic production of solar products. But solar companies operating in Nevada argued that in four years of imposed solar tariffs, the U.S. has not significantly expanded solar panel manufacturing.

“The tariffs have been in effect for four years now and we have not seen a material increase in domestic manufacturing so we can confidently find an adequate supply in the U.S.,” said Virinder Singh, vice president of regulatory & legislative affairs at EDF Renewables, in February. EDF has developed commercial solar plants in Nevada and is currently developing two solar projects on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, 35 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

“There is certainly interest in more domestic solar manufacturing,” Singh said this week, but suggested the industry’s development won’t be spurred by import tariffs but through tax incentives and tax credits for domestic manufacturers

Singh said Nevada projects were jeopardized as a result of the Commerce’s decision to halt imports during its investigation. He said he was by this week’s developments, which will eventually mean more jobs in Nevada’s solar power generation  industry. 

Also this week Biden announced he is using his executive powers to expedite the Defense Production Act (DPA) to produce more clean energy technologies, strengthen federal procurement to encourage demand for clean energy parts, and ensure that household solar deployers can build a reliable power grid for the 21st century. 

“During the two-year tariff suspension window, the U.S. solar industry can return to rapid deployment, while the Defense Production Act helps grow American solar manufacturing,” said SEIA’s Abigail Ross Hopper.  

According to SEIA, the current domestic production of solar panels only meets 15% of the U.S. solar demand making the solar industry heavily dependent on imports from China. 

Organized labor also welcomed this week’s developments. “The decimation of the domestic manufacturing industry will take years to repair, ” Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) said, “but these actions are a step in the right direction.”

In a statement applauding Biden’s announcement, Rosen described the Commerce Dept. investigation as “industry-crushing” and a potential imposition of tariffs on solar panels “job-killing.”

Rosen, who had introduced legislation in the Senate and lobbied the White House to assure continued imports of solar panels and equipment, said in an interview that Biden’s actions will end up pushing national production of clean energy.

“This will allow us to import goods,” Rosen said, which in turn will mean more jobs in Nevada.

“More clean, sustainable, renewable energy is good for our economy,” Rosen said. 

Cortez Masto, who had also recently introduced legislation to expand solar power component manufacturing in the U.S., also praised the decision. 

“ I’m glad to see the administration has taken steps so that the industry can continue to grow and create good-paying jobs,” she said.

She also said she is going to “continue pushing for more tax credits and other investments to support Nevada’s solar and other renewable industries.”

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