Federal regulators upheld the bifacial solar module import tariff as a public good, and potential protector of irreparable harm against solar developers. Concurrently, the trade courts reviewed the solar module import tariff as a whole, with some groups stating module manufacturing showed success, while solar cell manufacturing hasn’t been helped.
Tariffs on solar panels due to the Suniva filing increased, increased the cost of residential solar in a one year period by $236 million. Residential solar is roughly 1/5th of all solar power installed annually in the United States, suggesting near a near billion dollar a year tax. SEIA calculates that the tax butterfly effects into a cost to the U.S. more than 62,000 jobs, $19 billion in investment, and 10.5 GW in solar installations.
First off, yesterday the U.S. Court of International Trade ruled that the bifacial solar panel tariff exemption should stand. The court supported several logics – including that the rule making and rule withdrawing process might have been done incorrectly, that the filing company – solar developer Invenergy – could bear irreparable harm, that it was in the public interest, and a bit more. This last ruling is at the end of a whipsaw summer – starting with bifacial getting the exemption in June, then losing it in October, then again gaining it in November.
So what’s next?
In other hallowed federal corridors, there was a review of the solar panel import tariff. In the talk, discussions on solar cell and module factories came up, and of course jobs lost and projects missed as noted above by SEIA.
Morgan Lund, Chair of the Energy Storage Initiative and is the former Chair of the Solar Energy Initiative at law firm Stoell River, reached out to pv magazine USA with a perspective on the business continuity side of the argument:
Under normal circumstances this would be a routine tariff review proceeding, and we would expect no particular change in course. These are not normal circumstances, however, and this hearing inserts a measure of Trump Uncertainty Factor into the solar energy market. We would certainly not expect Trump to go out of his way to soften the tariffs in any way, but it is not impossible that he will find a way to make the tariffs more onerous (by limiting exceptions, reducing stepdown, or otherwise).
This inherent uncertainty will inevitably have some negative impact on market confidence in forward module pricing. The timing of this hearing benefits the market, however—the report will not be issued to the President until next year, which means that 2019 financings will continue uninterrupted (although some ITC safe-harbor efforts may have to be recalibrated). If Trump takes action, it will likely be in the first quarter, which will allow the markets time to adjust before closing the 2020 financings.
And Lund is not the only party who considered these complexities, as Kelsey Misbrener reported in the below tweety while in attendance of the hearings. Commissioner Schmidtlein, at the end of a long discussion as to whether the tariffs had met certain technical goals – solar cell manufacturing in the United States, President Trump could extend the tariffs beyond two more years. Hanwha Q Cells – who just opened what was for about a month the largest solar module manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere – followed up by stating they supported that idea.
A hush just fell over the room when Commissioner Schmidtlein said…technically, if President Trump wanted to, he could extend the tariffs beyond two more years.
— Kelsey Misbrener (@SolarKelseyM) December 5, 2019