Politics

Will Trump's solar panel tariff mean higher prices and lost jobs?

File: This photo taken on Dec. 11, 2017 shows a general view of a floating solar power plant in Huainan, a former coal-mining region, in China's eastern Anhui province.
File: This photo taken on Dec. 11, 2017 shows a general view of a floating solar power plant in Huainan, a former coal-mining region, in China's eastern Anhui province.
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In a bid to help U.S. manufacturers, President Donald Trump will impose tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines.

His administration is imposing an immediate tariff of 30 percent on most imported solar modules. That rate will decline before they're phased out after four years.

For large residential washing machines, tariffs will start at up to 50 percent and be phased out after three years.

The administration cast Monday's decisions as part of Trump's pledge to put American companies and jobs first — but the U.S. solar industry is split over the issue. 

Two small subsidiaries of foreign companies that made solar cells in the U.S. favor the tariffs. But a larger number of companies that install solar-power systems say their costs will rise and jobs will be lost.

KPCC talked to talked to Abigail Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar advocacy group about the new tariffs. Hopper said that the main concern she'd heard was that the tariffs could increase solar panel prices, which could hurt demand. 

In California, the country's largest solar market, as in the rest of the U.S., fewer solar panels being installed might mean job losses, Hopper said. 

"What I find the most upsetting is that a lot of folks who are likely to lose their jobs are construction workers, engineers, electricians — people who get up everyday, put on a hard hat, and build power plants. They just happen to be solar power."

Since California is a leader in clean energy, Hopper said she was hopeful the state would find other ways to help the solar industry, perhaps by incentivizing the use of solar with tax breaks.

Shayle Kann, who researches clean technology for GTM Research, estimated the tariffs would result in 10 percent less solar-generating capacity getting built around the country over the next four years.

"It will have an impact but it will by no means eviscerate the market," Kann told KPCC.

Kann said big solar farms, like those built by electric utilities to generate power for the grid, will be hit harder by the tariffs than rooftop arrays, because a larger portion of their cost is the panels themselves. But he said state policies like California’s, which requires the state to get half its energy from renewable sources by 2030, mean there will still be demand for large solar projects.

This story has been updated and was originally published on Jan. 22.