President Trump has approved a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels in a decision that could both help and hurt the U.S. solar industry.
The tariff approval, announced Monday by a U.S. trade representative, is expected to help U.S. solar manufacturers including Hillsboro-based SolarWorld — but many argue it will hurt the rest of the U.S. solar industry by raising the price of solar panels.
The president approved a set of tariffs that would start at 30 percent and drop to 15 percent over the next four years. In each of those years, the first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar panels would be exempt from the tariff.
In his announcement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said domestic solar panel manufacturers and their workers have been “seriously injured” by cheap imports from overseas.
“The president’s action makes clear again that the Trump Administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” Lighthizer said.
The U.S. already levies tariffs on solar panel imports from China. The new tariffs would apply to panels coming from other countries, where the Trump administration says Chinese companies have moved their production to evade the existing trade restrictions.
The tariffs approved by the president were not as strong as the ones recommended by the International Trade Commission.
SolarWorld Americas Inc. is one of two solar manufacturers who brought the trade case. CEO and President Juergen Stein said in a statement that his company appreciates the work that went into the decision, but he also hinted that the tariffs might fall short of what the solar manufacturing industry needs to compete compete with cheap imported solar panels.
“We are still reviewing these remedies and are hopeful they will be enough to address the import surge and to rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States,” he said.
Last year, SolarWorld laid off more than 300 workers at their Hillsboro manufacturing plant. When the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended tariffs on imported solar panels, the company hired back some of its laid off workers.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has supported SolarWorld’s trade case. But he said he is concerned that the administration didn’t follow the trade commission’s recommendations and offered “weaker relief” instead.
“I’ll be closely studying this decision to see if it will be sufficient to level the playing field for American solar manufacturers against the flood of foreign-made solar panels,” Wyden said in a statement.
Meanwhile, groups representing solar installers and other related solar businesses said the decision to impose tariffs on imports would end up costing jobs.
Adam Browning, executive director of the advocacy group Vote Solar, said the tariffs contradict the Trump administration’s priorities to create jobs and reduce electricity prices.
“This decision will slow the pace of solar’s cost competitiveness,” Browning said. “Solar is an American success story. Currently, there are about 260,000 Americans employed in the solar industry. When solar’s costs go up, all that success is jeopardized.”