Killing Solar. Killing Jobs.


Fact: The solar industry grew jobs by 20 percent last year in the U.S. — ten times faster than the national average.

Fact: 23,000+ new solar jobs were created and the industry now employs over 142,000 American workers.

U.S. Government Idea: Let’s kill solar growth and solar jobs.

How? Make solar more expensive with protectionist tariffs.

The reality is that U.S. trade policy is making solar energy more expensive and harder to deploy.

Right now, the solar industry is hamstrung by trade complaints filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission and Department of Commerce that are raising solar prices across the country. The petitioner, SolarWorld, is a German-owned company that operates a facility here in Oregon and seeks increased tariffs on solar products imported from China, as well as an expansion of tariffs to include products from Taiwan.

Even the WTO recently ruled that the 2012 solar tariffs were a violation of their rules. It makes it even clearer that new tariffs are misguided.

At the beginning of June, the Department of Commerce released a preliminary determination in SolarWorld’s favor and began collecting countervailing duties as high as 35 percent on imports of solar products. Solar businesses and customers are already feeling the effect of this petition, and a recent report from GTM Research predicted the new tariffs will raise the price of solar panels by at least 14 percent.

Rather than leading to more US manufacturing, tariffs hurt the American workers and solar companies they aim to help. Even with these higher prices, not one analyst is predicting a renaissance in US solar cell manufacturing. So we are killing US installation jobs that can’t be outsourced and hurting successful US solar manufacturers of products like racking systems, inverters and polysilicon for a small sector of the industry representing around 1% of the American solar workforce.

That’s because the success of solar depends on beating the cost of other forms of electricity generation, like coal and natural gas. Non-renewable sources of energy are the true competitors for America’s solar industry, not companies in China or Taiwan.

Tariffs also hurt, if not kill, jobs in installation and project development. These jobs on rooftops across the country are impossible to outsource and depend on continued high demand for affordable solar energy. The majority of the 23,000 new solar jobs created last year fall into these categories.

The solar legal cases are scheduled to drag on through the summer and fall. In doing so, they paralyze our industry with uncertainty. Pricing and supply are difficult to predict. Investment is frozen and some projects will fail.

Rather than continue with litigation, a better way forward is through a negotiated solution between SolarWorld and the Chinese manufacturers. This is the approach favored by the majority of U.S. solar companies, represented through the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which is working hard to broker a deal between the two sides.

I believe SEIA’s proposal provides a great foundation for resolving this dispute. But to make any progress, SolarWorld must make clear what it wants. I want to see SolarWorld and Chinese industry come together to negotiate an agreement that would be a win-win for all parties.

President Obama has both championed solar energy and pledged to make 2014 a “year of action” through use of his “phone and pen.” With a call, President Obama could bring the parties to the table for true negotiations and make the resolution of this trade dispute a priority for his administration.

A growing solar industry is good for all American solar companies – including SolarWorld. Most of all – it is good for you, your community, and future jobs in your community.

In reality, all solar is local. Starting with each of us.

[Photo Credit: Oregon Department of Transportation on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

This post appeared on the LinkedIn Influencer page of Jigar Shah on July 17th, 2014 and can be viewed there by clicking here.
Jigar Shah is founder of SunEdison, the largest solar services company, and was the first CEO of the Carbon War Room (CWR), where he is a board member today. CWR is a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy. As chief executive of Jigar Shah Consulting, he works with global organizations on business solutions to solve climate change. He is the author of Creating Climate Wealth (ICOSA 2013).