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Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

A big question swirling around the news that First Solar is expanding its U.S. manufacturing is how much — if anything — the recent White House import tariffs on solar panel equipment influenced the move.

What they're saying: CEO Mark Widmar said on the company's first quarter earnings call that the move will "further solidify our position as the largest U.S. solar module manufacturer," adding that production will be fully ramped up by the end of 2020 and it will create 500 jobs.

  • It's a $400 million investment to expand production of its Series 6 thin-film PV module, the company said late yesterday afternoon.

Timing: It comes roughly a week after SunPower — which had lobbied against the tariffs — announced it was buying SolarWorld Americas, which manufactures in Oregon and is one of the two companies that petitioned for the penalties.

Yes, but: It's tough to say if the penalties had much effect on First Solar's decision, which the company said will triple its U.S. capacity. Yesterday, First Solar officials did not cite the tariffs as a factor behind the expansion. Instead, they said it stems from strong U.S. demand and the corporate tax overhaul recently signed into law.

  • First Solar's overseas manufacturing in Malaysia and Vietnam is already exempt from the tariffs, which do not cover the cadmium-telluride thin-film tech they use.

The bottom line: With all that said, published reports and sources I touched base with last night say the tariffs were at least an indirect factor for the company, which is a solar project developer as well as manufacturer.

  • The penalties affecting other companies have improved First Solar's strategic position. Greentech Media reports that their project development business has grown strongly "while competitors have been stymied by new solar tariffs."

Quoted: ClearView Energy Partners analyst Timothy Fox said there was little interest in expanded domestic manufacturing before the trade penalties.

  • "Three recent announcements — NextEra raising its purchase order from JinkoSolar’s Florida facility (3/30), SunPower buying SolarWorld Americas, (4/16) and First Solar building a new plant (4/26) — suggest that the domestic solar industry is adapting to the President’s trade decision," he tells Axios in an email.

Go deeper

Updated 30 mins ago - World

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Iraqis dressed in traditional outfits greet Pope Francis upon his arrival at Erbil airport, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, on March 7. Photo: Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis was on Sunday visiting northern areas of Iraq once held by Islamic State militants.

Why it matters: This is the first-ever papal trip to Iraq. The purpose of Francis' four-day visit is largely intended to reassure the country's Christian minority, who were violently persecuted by ISIS, which controlled the region from 2014-2017.

Cuomo faces fresh misconduct allegations from former aides

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February press conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was on Saturday facing fresh accusations of misconduct against his staff, including further allegations of inappropriate behavior against two more women. His office denies the claims.

Driving the news: The Washington Post reported Cuomo allegedly embraced an aide when he led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and that two male staffers who worked for him in the governor's office accused him of routinely berating them "with explicit language."

In photos: Protesters rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Chaz Neal, a Redwing community activist, outside the Minnesota Governor's residence during a protest in support of George Floyd in St.Paul, Minnesota, on March 6. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of protesters were rallying outside the Minnesota governor's mansion in St Paul Saturday, urging justice for George Floyd ahead of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start this Monday, with jury selection procedures.