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US solar cell tariffs darken 62,000 American jobs

A Solar Energy Industries Association study says U.S. tariffs on crystalline silicon solar cells have pushed solar panel prices in the U.S. 43-57% above the global average price.

Since the imposition of U.S. tariffs on crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar cell imports in 2018, 62,000 Americans have either lost their jobs or were never hired, according to a study released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The association said the job losses are attributed to the fact that solar panel prices are now 43-57% higher than the global average price, leading to higher prices for customers and reducing overall demand.

“Solar was the first industry to be hit with this administration’s tariff policy, and now we’re feeling the impacts that we warned against two years ago,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO, in a statement. “This stark data should be the predicate for removing harmful tariffs and allowing solar to fairly compete and continue creating jobs for Americans.”

The association estimates that more than 10.5 gigawatts of solar installations, which is enough electricity to power 1.8 million homes, will not be deployed due to the tariffs.

Source: Solar Energy Industries Association

According to a Dec. 4 Reuters news report, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro called the SEIA’s study “fake news” and referred to the association as “a loose confederation of Chinese solar companies seeking to destroy American solar manufacturing jobs.”

Hopper said in a response to Navarro, “We’d be thrilled if Mr. Navarro would come to one of our conferences to meet some of the 242,000 Americans who work in this great industry, including the tens of thousands of people who manufacture solar products.” 

Hopper and SEIA Chairman Ryan Creamer, who is CEO of sPower, will testify Dec. 5 before the U.S. International Trade Commission’s midterm review hearing of the solar cell tariff impacts on the domestic solar power industry.

In January 2018, President Trump ordered a tariff of 30% on solar modules and cells in year one, decreasing 5% year-over-year, with the fourth year being the final year of Section 201 tariffs.

The ITC started its solar cell safeguard investigation in May 2017 pursuant to a petition by Norcross, Georgia-based Suniva.

The volume of annually installed solar generation capacity in the U.S. more than tripled from 2012 to 2016, helped by artificially low-priced solar cells and modules from China, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative at the time.

USTR noted that between 2005 and 2017, China’s state-directed initiatives expanded its proportion of global solar cell production from 7% in 2005 to 60% in 2017. U.S. imports also grew by about 500% from 2012 to 2016, and prices fell by about 60%.

The U.S. imposed antidumping and countervailing duties on Chinese solar cells in 2012, but Chinese producers evaded the duties through “loopholes” and “relocating production” to Taiwan, and in 2013, Chinese producers moved more production abroad, including to Malaysia, Singapore, Germany and South Korea, the U.S. government claimed.

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.