Biden extension of Trump tariffs dismays Nevada solar industry
4 years of fees on imported panels have failed to boost domestic manufacturing
Solar panels at the Copper Mountain Solar 3 Facility just outside Boulder City. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)
Last week President Joe Biden announced he would extend tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump on most imported solar panels, a move that has frustrated solar industry leaders in Nevada.
Biden plans to continue tariffs on imported solar cells and panels for four more years, but said he would exempt bifacial solar panels that can capture sunlight on both sides and generate more electricity than traditional solar panels.
Solar companies operating in Nevada commended the Biden administration for excluding bifacial solar panels that are used in many large-scale utility projects in the state, while criticizing his decision to continue wide scale tariffs on imported solar products required due to insufficient domestic supplies.
California based developer 8minute Solar Energy is developing two clean energy projects on the Moapa River Indian Reservation in Nevada: Eagle Shadow Mountain and Southern Bighorn Solar.
Both projects require imported panels due to insufficient domestic supply – an issue that impacts solar projects nationwide, said Frank De Rosa, vice president of government affairs for 8minute Solar Energy.
“There’s a very small amount of domestic solar panel manufacturing that is occurring now,” De Rosa said. “There’s nowhere near the volume needed to meet the current demand for solar panels in the United States, let alone the amount the Biden administration is forecasting are needed to meet its climate goals.”
The solar industry welcomes the creation of a robust domestic supply to avoid future trade disputes, said De Rosa, but the supply simply isn’t there.
Current domestic production of solar panels only meets 15% of the U.S. solar demand, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), meaning the solar industry heavily relies on imports, primarily from China.
Tariffs have failed to boosted manufacturing
Tariffs on solar panels are meant to protect American workers and businesses from import competition and boost domestic production of solar products. But solar companies operating in Nevada argue that in four years of imposed solar tariffs the U.S. has not significantly expanded solar manufacturing.
Domestic prices for solar panels in the U.S. are now among the highest in the world and significantly above the global average, said SEIA.
Virinder Singh, vice president of regulatory & legislative affairs at EDF Renewables, said his company was “dismayed” at Biden’s decision to extend solar tariffs.
“The tariffs have been in effect for four years now and we have not seen a material increase in domestic manufacturing so we can confidently find an adequate supply in the U.S.,” Singh said.
“Uncertainty is rarely good for investments,” Singh continued.
EDF Renewable, a subsidiary of the French utility EDF Group, is developing another two solar projects on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, 35 miles northeast of Las Vegas in Clark County, Nevada.
“We do not see trade tariffs as being effective in improving the national economy. In the unsuccessful effort to induce domestic manufacturing it ends up damaging many other parts of the supply chain, many of which are located in the U.S. and involve American workers,” Singh said.
In Nevada, about 83% of solar companies are in non-manufacturing, instead concentrated in installation and maintenance, operations, distribution, and development. Nationally, only 14% of solar jobs are in the manufacturing sector, while 67% of solar jobs are in installation and construction, according to a report from SEIA.
Nevada has more than 6,100 solar energy jobs, the most per capita in the U.S., according to a recent report based on U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
“In Nevada there are thousands of jobs in the solar industry that come from building, maintaining, and operating these plants,” said De Rosa. “Until we get that diversified supply, we need to have a stable, predictable source of panels so those thousands of jobs can be created.”
The Eagle Shadow Mountain project, developed by 8minute Solar Energy on the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation, is expected to generate up to 450 union jobs during its 18-month construction period, with 10 full-time employees working at the plant upon completion.
De Rosa said the main concern for Nevada workers on the solar project is whether or not there is a steady shipment of solar panels that will insure construction and installation jobs continue in the state.
“Our project might be say two years in construction, but these construction, service, and maintenance jobs are really career jobs. These employees will then go on the next project to build, and Nevada will be building thousands of megawatts of solar over the next twenty years,” De Rosa said.
Solar development in Nevada has also benefited marginalized workers, said De Rosa, including members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes.
“The majority of the construction workers on that site are tribal members,” said De Rosa. “There is a very large economic benefit to the tribes because of these projects. These workers are now skilled construction workers and craft members who will go on to the next project, be it on the reservation, or be it somewhere else in Southern Nevada.”
Nevada U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen called Biden’s decision to extend solar tariffs “disappointing.”
Rosen, in a statement, said tariffs were the “wrong approach” arguing they “will harm America’s clean energy economy by unnecessarily hindering domestic solar projects and raising costs, while failing to incentivize domestic manufacturing.”
Last month, Rosen led a bipartisan group of senators to urge Biden not to extend tariffs on imported solar panels and cells. While the administration did ultimately choose to continue some tariffs they did exclude bifacial panels, a partial concession.
Biden also doubled the import quota on solar cells — the devices that convert sunlight into electricity for utility projects.
Rosen said she would “continue working to strengthen solar industry jobs in Nevada and across the country by boosting American manufacturing and fighting to end these misguided solar tariffs, including through legislation.”
Solar developers operating in Nevada say they support efforts to promote domestic manufacturing throughout the solar supply chain, but argue that lawmakers will have to establish strong policy and incentives to expand domestic solar production capacity, including tax credits for domestic solar manufacturers.
“There are many tools available to the federal government to incentivize domestic manufacturing,” Singh said.
Arevon Energy recently completed their Townsite Solar + Storage facility in Boulder City, Nevada, built with both domestically produced panels and imported panels. The company plans to continue solar development in the state, said Kathrine Gensler, vice president of government affairs and marketing for Arevon.
“We absolutely need to grow the domestic supply chain for solar components,” said Gensler. “We use domestically produced solar components when we can get them, the problem is that the utility scale market is much bigger than how many domestically produced panels there are.”
Providing incentives for domestic solar manufacturing is a better strategy to spur growth and investment, said Gensler.
The now defunct Build Back Better package included domestic manufacturing provisions, including tax credits and workforce development investments, that solar industry leaders in Nevada believe would have helped establish a strong manufacturing industry in the United States.
“Congressional action to continue support for clean energy jobs and clean energy projects is really critical,” Gensler said. “Whether it’s called Build Back Better or something else.”
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