Solar Tariffs threaten Montana’s Solar Industry

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In May, two foreign-owned U.S. solar manufacturers (Suniva and SolarWorld) filed a “Section 201” request with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) to place tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. The petition claimed that imported solar cells and modules were harming the domestic manufacturing industry. The USITC took up the petition and began looking into whether or not these imported cells and modules were indeed doing harm. On September 22nd, the USITC ruled that an increased volume of solar imports did injure domestic solar manufacturing. This is significant because a confirmation of injury to the market requires the USITC to then make remedy recommendations to the President who will decide what, if any, remedies to enact.

The original tariffs requested by the domestic manufacturers could double the cost of imported panels, which are widely used. Although the petition focuses mostly on manufacturers, it is installers who may feel the largest impacts from these artificial price increases. Montana’s solar industry is mostly comprised of installers (more than 80%), many of whom are small businesses. These prices increases will make installations more costly, driving down demand and reducing investment in these systems. This would set Montana’s industry back years, undoing the progress the industry has made. Nationally, opponents to the tariffs are saying approx. 88,000 jobs in the solar industry could be lost due to the tariffs.

MREA engaged with State Legislators and with our Congressional Delegates to address this issue. In October, the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee voted 6-2 to send a letter to Montana’s Congressional Delegation requesting they engage the ITC and President, asking them to ensure a solution that does no harm to the small businesses that make up Montana’s solar industry. We are thrilled at the Committee’s decision, and their bipartisan show of support for Montana’s solar industry.

In late October, the USITC made their recommendations to the President, with a variety of options being presented. One of the options, presented by Commissioner Broadbent, closely reflects those suggested by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a leading voice in opposition to the petition. Other recommendations are percentage based tariffs, while still others are tariffs based on a raw dollar amounts. Importantly, none of the remedies significantly align with those requested by the petitioners, which SEIA and others argued were extraneous.

Mostly recently, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), the body that represents State Public Service Commissioners in charge of regulating utilities across the country, formally adopted a resolution urging the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) to carefully consider the harm that American consumers would face from proposed trade remedies, including tariffs.

Once recommendations are made, the President has 60 days (until January 12th, 2018) to make a ruling. In cases like these, the President has a large amount of latitude on the decision. The President may accept one of the recommendations made by the USITC, one of the original recommendations from the petition, or a completely new set of remedies.

MREA continues to work with our State and Federal representatives on this critical issue. For more background information on the issue, and to learn more about SEIA’s efforts in D.C., visit the SEIA website.

Suggested reading:
Sep. 22, UtilityDive – ITC finds injury to US solar manufacturers, sending tariff decision to Trump
Sep. 26, High Country News – Trump considers tariffs on solar industry
Oct. 26, MT Public Radio – Montana Lawmakers Express Concern Over Solar Panel Tariffs
Oct. 31, GreenTech Media – ITC Issues Recommended Remedies in Section 201 Solar Trade Case
Nov. 15, SEIA – NARUC Approves Resolution Urging USTR to Carefully Weigh the Harmful Results of Trade Remedies
Nov. 30, UtilityDive – US Trade Rep pushes for another ITC report ahead of solar trade case hearing