How Will Trump's Solar Tariff Affect the Solar Curious in Charlottesville?

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I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is and installed solar at my townhome in Belvedere. I’m wondering if I did so just in the nick of time given Trump’s recent imposition of a 30% tariff on solar panels. With this news in mind, what about my friends and neighbors whom I was hoping to bring into the fold?!

First of all, what is the solar tariff?

Last Monday, Trump signed into law a 30% tax on imported solar cells. Since around 80 percent of the solar panels in the U.S. use cells from Malaysia and South Korea, this dramatically effects the U.S. solar provider industry.

The administration’s idea is that if we impose a tariff on solar imports that U.S. manufactures will be spurred to make the solar panels here; however according to experts in the industry, it won’t.  “The imposition of tariffs on solar cell imports by the administration accomplishes none of what it intends to,” says Devin Welch of Charlottesville-based Sun Tribe Solar.

“It will not spur U.S. cell or module manufacturing able to meet domestic demand. It won’t resurrect the trade case plaintiffs, Suniva and SolarWorld, from bankruptcy. It certainly won’t result in job growth. In fact, it will cost our economy tens of thousands of jobs, the high-paying blue-collar jobs that our economy is in desperate need of.”

 So, how does this affect the average homeowner?

So how does the tariff impact the happy Charlottesville homeowner who had plans to go solar this year?

Analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimate residents who want rooftop solar panels are likely to see a 3 percent increase in price. For a utility or shared grid system, it’s likely the cost hike may rise to 10%. Welch estimated a potential increase of 6%.  Logan Landry, President of Sigora Solar put out a statement on the issue which stated that “...we don’t anticipate a price increase for our current and future customers. Moreover, because we believe this tariff is targeted at Asian exports, we’ve strengthened our relationships with manufacturers in Canada and other nations around the world.”  Definitely good to hear.

How does it affect jobs in Virginia?

The job outlook is not quite as hopeful as most seem to be saying that this action will “slow” the pace of solar in the U.S..

Welch stated, "Solar is the fastest growing sector of the workforce, adding jobs at 12 times the rate of the overall economy. President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on imported solar cells jeopardizes that growth, costing an estimated 23,000 jobs this year alone.”

“Many of those jobs were taking root right here in the Commonwealth. This is a short-sighted decision that creates an artificial headwind for the industry. “

The good news? 

The overwhelming majority of Virginians want their energy from renewable sources.  According to the Yale 2016 study on Climate Opinion, 69% of Albemarle County residents would like to see utilities have 20% of their electricity production be from renewable energy sources.

Welch says, “[Trump’s] decision slows down the transition to a clean energy future but it doesn’t change the destination.”



The White House, Office of the US Trade Representative, President Trump Approves Relief for U.S. Washing Machine and Solar Cell Manufacturers  [Press Release] (2018); Cummins, Eleanor. “The price of solar panels just went up—here's what that means for you.” Popular Science January 25, 2018. Online. Eckhouse, Natter, and Martin. “Trump’s Tariff Solar Mark Biggest Blow to Renewables Yet.” Bloomberg January 22, 2018; D. Welch, personal communication, January 26, 2018. And the Yale Climate Opinion Map U.S. 2016 accessed January 26, 2018.