Apr 30, 2022 - Economy

Solar projects stalled as Biden administration probes Chinese imports

A solar farm under construction in Portage, Pennsylvania, on April 25.

A solar farm under construction in Portage, Pa., on April 25. Photo: Justin Merriman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Commerce's probe into whether Chinese companies are skirting tariffs on solar panel shipments to the U.S. is delaying projects nationwide, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Why it matters: The industry trade group claims that the investigation is setting back efforts to cut carbon emissions and harming U.S. green jobs, while potential tariffs resulting from it could further stunt solar growth.

The Biden administration's circumvention case against solar imports from Southeast Asia, which started in mid-March, came at the request of U.S. manufacturer Auxin Solar.

  • It asked the Commerce Department to investigate whether Chinese companies that receive subsidies from the Chinese government were getting around U.S. tariffs and flooding the U.S. market with solar parts by building subsidiary facilities in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • The U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar parts have been in place since 2012 to bolster domestic production of the parts. The Trump administration expanded the tariffs in 2018.

By the numbers: SEIA said this week that the probe has already delayed projects across the U.S.

  • A total of 318 U.S. projects accounting for 51 gigawatts of solar capacity and six gigawatt hours of attached battery storage have either been canceled or delayed, according to a survey the group conducted this month that 700 companies responded to.
  • It alleges that that loss of solar development caused the U.S. to emit an additional 364 million metric tons of carbon by 2035.

What they're saying: “If tariffs are imposed, in the blink of an eye we’re going to lose 100,000 American solar workers and any hope of reaching the President’s clean energy goals,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO, in a statement.

  • "This would be a monumental loss for our nation, which has the potential to lead our clean energy future, with the right policies. Instead, the Commerce Department is on track to wipe out nearly half of all solar jobs and force a surrender on the President’s climate goals," she added.

The big picture: The Biden administration extended former President Trump's tariffs on solar cells and panels. However, it loosened some restrictions on imports from Asia to help combat climate change, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

  • In a bipartisan rebuke of the tariffs, Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced now-stalled legislation in February to repeal them, while creating a program to enhance domestic production and manufacturing of solar panels and other components.

Go deeper: Solar developers see big hurdles in Commerce probe

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