Solar group says US trade probe will cut domestic installations in half

Solar group says US trade probe will cut domestic installations in half

A US probe into whether Chinese solar-panel manufacturers are circumventing tariffs will slash expected domestic installations by 46% this year and next, according to a Washington-based advocacy group.

The Solar Energy Industries Association said on Tuesday that 318 projects totalling 51 gigawatts of solar capacity and six gigawatt-hours of attached battery storage are being cancelled or delayed. That’s equivalent to the electricity generated by about 51 nuclear reactors. The probe also puts 100,000 jobs at risk in a US industry that employed more than 230,000 workers in 2020.

“With one stroke of a pen this administration could wipe out 10 years of solar job growth,” Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s chief executive officer, said in a joint interview with solar firms at Bloomberg’s Washington bureau.

The US trade investigation has roiled the domestic industry and threatens to slow the Biden administration’s push to green the country’s power grids because the country is heavily dependent on solar panels imported from Asia. But the administration is also keen to expand domestic solar-panel manufacturing, which currently can’t meet US demand and has struggled to compete with foreign producers.

Delayed modules

Many module suppliers in four Southeast Asian nations have suspended exports to the US since the Commerce Department began its investigation about a month ago. A survey released on Tuesday by SEIA showed that 83% of 730 respondents received indication that their module supply has been delayed or canceled.

The existence of the probe is damaging projects of Nautilus Solar Energy LLC, said Laura Stern, the co-CEO. All panels Nautilus is expecting for the rest of the year are affected by the trade case, and delays are increasing the firm’s costs, she said in the interview.

Higher costs

The consequence could be higher costs for all customers including low-income Americans, said Suzanne Leta, head of policy and strategy for rooftop company SunPower Corp. Solar industry executives and SEIA officials are set to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday to press their case.

Auxin Solar Inc, the California-based manufacturer that requested the trade inquiry, argues that final assembly of panels in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia is minimal, with most work done in China. The four countries targeted by the inquiry supply the US with about 80% of its imported modules.

“SEIA’s past sky-is-falling fearmongering concerning fair trade has never come to fruition,” Mamun Rashid, Auxin’s CEO, said in a statement. “It should encourage these members who have identified canceled or delayed projects because of unreliable supply to contact domestic producers like Auxin Solar.”

A final decision on the US investigation could be a year away and if the Commerce Department concludes that tariffs are being circumvented, it could extend existing anti-dumping and countervailing duties to some manufacturers’ operations in Southeast Asia.

“Compounding effects are ultimately going to limit the number of projects that move forward,” Brad Ferrell of BayWa r.e. said in the interview. “That may not come back, and you may miss the window for those types of projects.”