Trump Tariff Clouds Future for Solar Companies

Workers secure solar panels to a rooftop during a Solar City Corp. residential installation in Albuquerque N.M

President Donald Trump has slapped high tariffs on import of solar cells and washing machines to protect the American market badly hit by products from countries like China and South Korea.

Trump has said the tariff will lead to more USA manufacturing jobs, by preventing foreign goods that are cheap and often subsidized from undercutting domestic products. The problem for the USA solar industry is that it relies on cheaper imported panels for 80 percent of its supply.

Trump has been eager to enact a tariff of any kind, Johnson said, and doing so against the solar industry became convenient.

Seitz said her company buys solar products from large foreign corporations like Hyundai and LG Electronics due to their "diverse portfolios" and she does not believe that domestic companies will drive prices up because of the tariffs.

Research firm CFRA analyst Angelo Zino said he expected any added manufacturing jobs would be "minimal" given the 18 months to two years it takes to build and ramp up a new production facility and the industry's shift towards automation.

The new charges, pitched on Monday by the White House as relief for domestic manufacturers, are instead being slammed by United States solar industry groups as an effort to destroy the solar energy market in America.

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Cheshire predicts there will be a 15 to 30 percent reduction in solar integration across the state as a result of Tuesday's action. It was later joined in the petition by SolarWorld.

Mark Johnson, founder and chief executive of Sol Luna Solar, a company based in Dixon that installs systems throughout Northern New Mexico, agreed that the tariff will have an effect.

Suniva on Monday said the tariffs were "necessary", while SolarWorld said it was "hopeful they will be enough".

China's government started supporting solar manufacturers in the middle of the last decade with cheap loans from state-controlled institutions led by China Development Bank Corp.

Tempe-based solar manufacturer First Solar saw its stock price jump Tuesday morning before it settled back down to the previous day's level by late afternoon.

China branded the move an "overreaction" that would harm the global trade environment.

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"SolarWorld Americas appreciates the hard work of President Trump, the US trade representative, and this administration in reaching today's decision, and the president's recognition of the importance of solar manufacturing to America's economic and national security", said SolarWorld CEO and President Juergen Stein in a statement.

"China will work with other WTO [World Trade Organization] members to resolutely defend its legitimate interests in response to the erroneous US decision".

This comment on Wednesday from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying came a day after the Ministry of Commerce expressed "dissatisfaction" at the new tariffs that to some observers looked like the first shots of a trade war.

The move is in line with President Trump's "America First" trade policy.

We also note that the real impact of the Solar Tariff may be blunted by steps already taken by developers, contractors and investors in the second half of 2017.

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