Solar Panels
On 140 acres of unused land on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., 70,000 solar panels are part of a solar photovoltaic array that will generate 15 megawatts of solar power for the base. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay)

In a statement released on Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced President Donald Trump’s approval of four years of safeguard tariffs on imported solar cells and modules, in an effort to support domestic manufacturers. The renewable energy components will be taxed 30 percent in the first year, and 5 percent less each successive year. The first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells will be exempted from the tariff each year.

“The International Trade Commission (ITC) found that U.S. producers had been seriously injured by imports and made several recommendations to the President,” Lighthizer said in the release. “Upon receiving these recommendations, my staff and I conducted an exhaustive process which included opportunities to brief in person and through public comments, public hearings, and meetings with senior representatives. Based on this information, the Trade Policy Committee developed recommendations, which the President has accepted. The President’s action makes clear again that the Trump Administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses in this regard.”

While the ITC did announce in September that imported photovoltaic cells are a “substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported article” following an inquiry petition by U.S.-operated, but foreign-owned, photovoltaic producers Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, it is unclear if this tariff will help the domestic market. Some groups, such as the nonprofit Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), are concerned the tariffs will have a negative impact on the industry.

“These tariffs will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper in a press release reacting to the announcement. SEIA estimates that the tariff will cost the U.S. economy approximately 23,000 jobs due to canceled solar investments.

SolarWorld and Suniva released the following statement praising the president’s decision: “SolarWorld Americas appreciates the hard work of President Trump, the U.S. Trade Representative, and this administration in reaching today’s decision, and the President’s recognition of the importance of solar manufacturing to America’s economic and national security. 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. We will work with the U.S. Government to implement these remedies, including future negotiations, in the strongest way possible to benefit solar manufacturing and its thousands of American workers to ensure that U.S. solar manufacturing is world-class competitive for the long term.”

Many are also speculating that this decision is Trump's latest attempt to undermine the economics renewable energy resources that can be used to combat climate change. The president has already opted to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords, sought to roll back power plant emissions regulations, and passed a tax bill that restricts wind and solar power investment.