Putting up tariff on solar panels could cost thousands of jobs in the United States and delay the development of renewable energy alternatives worldwide.
By announcing Monday, Jan. 22, that he was approving a 30% tariff on solar panels manufactured outside the United States, Donald Trump has shaken a booming sector.
The global solar panel industry has been literally monopolized by Chinese companies over the past decade, which have been offering extremely low prices while gradually increasing the quality of the equipment sold.
In putting in effect the tariff, the US president responds directly to the request of Suniva and SolarWorld, two struggling US manufacturers who denounce a six-fold increase in Chinese imports in five years, leading to a collapse in prices. However, opponents of this decision have already pointed out that the two companies in question are in fact the American subsidiaries of foreign groups — Chinese and German in this case.
Nonetheless, the Trump administration believes that this decision will protect American jobs and that it embodies the “America First” policy advocated by the White House. “You are going to have people who are going to get back to work and we are finally going to make our own products. It’s been a long time,” said the president.
But the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates that this decision could cost 23,000 jobs. According to SEIA, President Trump’s choice will “result in the postponement or cancellation of billions of dollars of investment in the solar sector.”
A Net Destruction of Jobs
Ironically, many states in the south, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump are among those who have developed their solar industry the most and will suffer from this decision. This is the case, for example, with Arizona, the third largest producer of solar energy. Republican senator John McCain, a former presidential candidate, said the decision amounted to “imposing a new tax on the consumers”.
Trump’s decision’s ability to support US employment and industry is questioned by several analysts. “We expect very little investment in the highly automated US plants and the net destruction of jobs as a result of hardware price increases,” said Varun Sivaram, a researcher on solar energy to Axios.
But the decision is also part of a broader energy context established by Trump since his presidential campaign during which he had promised a revival of the country’s coal industry. The President’s policy on US “energy independence” relies heavily on fossil fuels. It is also this logic that has led to the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, passed under its predecessor Barack Obama to protect the environment and reduce global warming, and to unfavorable tax regulations for solar and wind energy.
“This is the hardest blow by President Donald Trump to renewable energy,” says the Bloomberg. In the United States, the solar industry employs 260,000 people — five times more than the coal industry.