Boulder Housing Partners’ Red Oak Park in Boulder, an affordable-housing complex developed in place of an existing mobile home park, is a finalist is the Green Multi-Residential Building category. The project has 59 separate Energy Star-certified units with electricity provided by solar panels. Units include Energy Star appliances, water-conserving fixtures and energy-efficient lighting. Nearly 400 tons of waste was salvaged and recycled during the deconstruction process in order to comply with Boulder’s GreenPoints requirements. Courtesy Boulder Housing Partners

Report: National solar industry lost $19B in investments from tariffs

A report from a national solar industry trade group claims a set of tariffs on solar panels and cells have cost the industry billions in lost investments and sales for companies that install and operate those systems.

The study from the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates solar companies across the U.S. could have produced 62,000 jobs and garnered $19 billion in private investments if the federal government had not placed tariffs on solar panels and cells.

The Trump Administration, as part of a broader protectionist trade policy, applied a 30 percent import tax on all foreign solar equipment in 2017. Panel makers Suniva and SolarWorld Americas told federal trade officials it was suffering from export panels flooding the American market.

The tariffs were approved through 2021 and have shrunk annually. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office is required to look at the effects of a specific tariff halfway through its lifespan and will start review on solar tariffs later this week.

Suniva, which is owned by a Chinese parent company, filed for bankruptcy in June 2018 and intended to liquidate. SolarWorld, a German company, sold its American assets to SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR) four months later.

The irony isn’t lost on Namaste Solar Electric Inc. co-founder Blake Jones, who said those solar panel companies mainly failed because of poor customer service and other competitive disadvantages rather than a flood of cheap imports weighing down prices.

Jones also said the gains in American solar manufacturing is minimal compared to the losses suffered by overall industry because that production is mostly automated. Meanwhile, installers such as Namaste have had to absorb the increased price in foreign panels themselves or pass it onto their customers, hurting their businesses and slowing their hiring patterns.

“There are so relatively few jobs that are created in (manufacturing),” he said. “That’s not the battle I would pick when you have to pick your battles… So I guess I’m not crying over spilled milk in this particular case,” referring to Suniva and SolarWorld’s fates.

He recalled a specific project where the company had purchased $2 million in panels, but the tariffs were put into effect as those panels were en route to the U.S. Namaste ended up having to pay an additional $100,000 to take delivery.

SEIA’s report argues the tariffs hamstrung solar installation companies with higher costs, which drove up its price compared to other energy sources and made it less appealing to homeowners and utilities.

“In general, utility companies, homeowners and businesses choose to buy solar electricity when it is the most cost effective option, though non-price factors may also spur solar adoption,” the report says. “The adverse impact of tariffs is most pronounced in markets where solar has just achieved grid parity,” or in other words, where solar prices became comparable to energy prices of fossil fuels or other energy sources.

However, a report in September suggests job figures in Colorado’s clean energy industry could climb over 10 percent by the end of the year due to support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and diversifying the power mix. The study also suggests the “hurdle rate” for how low solar kilowatt per hour prices need to be for an area to see widespread adoption was 9 cents per hour, below the state average of about 12.70 cents per hour for all electricity sources.

But Jones said the solar market is growing despite the tariffs because electric prices are continuing to fall as the industry scales up, and customers are demanding sources of power that don’t contribute to climate change.

“The good news is the long-term trajectory is very, very good; it’s just a bummer to have a speed bump like this,” he said.

A report from a national solar industry trade group claims a set of tariffs on solar panels and cells have cost the industry billions in lost investments and sales for companies that install and operate those systems.

The study from the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates solar companies across the U.S. could have produced 62,000 jobs and garnered $19 billion in private investments if the federal government had not placed tariffs on solar panels and cells.

The Trump Administration, as part of a broader protectionist trade policy, applied a 30 percent import tax on all foreign solar equipment in 2017. Panel makers Suniva and SolarWorld Americas told federal trade officials it was suffering from export panels flooding the American market.

The tariffs were approved through 2021 and have shrunk annually. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office is required to look at the effects of a specific tariff halfway through its lifespan and will start review on solar tariffs later this week.

Suniva, which is owned by a Chinese parent company, filed for bankruptcy in June 2018 and intended to liquidate. SolarWorld, a German company, sold its American assets to SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWR) four months later.

The irony isn’t lost on Namaste Solar Electric Inc. co-founder Blake Jones, who said those solar panel companies mainly failed because of poor customer service and other competitive disadvantages rather than a flood of cheap imports weighing down prices.

Jones also said the gains in American solar manufacturing is minimal compared to the losses suffered by…