Trump's solar tariffs roil $28B industry

The Trump administration’s new tariffs on solar module imports take effect on Wednesday, the result of yet another contentious trade case from recent months.

At the end of January, President Trump approved the imposition of a 30% tariff on imported equipment used in solar panels, a duty that will be halved over the course of four years before phasing out entirely. The announcement was cheered by those who produce panels domestically, but criticized by some companies that install solar systems.

The White House’s stated goal is to protect and promote domestic manufacturing, though some power players in the sector argue it will have the exact opposite effect. The tariffs were recommended by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Sunnova Energy Corporation’s CEO John Berger expressed his disappointment with the administration’s decision, and said that the industry represents “innovation, resiliency and job creation.” Despite the tariffs, Berger expected solar costs would continue to decline.

Meanwhile, SunPower Corp said it would temporarily halt a planned $20 million expansion of one of its U.S. factories until its panels were officially excluded from the tariffs. The company uses different technology in its products and has therefore argued it should not be compared to more conventional manufacturers. The U.S. investment was scheduled to create “hundreds” of domestic jobs.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national solar trade lobby, said the tariffs could result in the loss of 23,000 American jobs this year alone.

The trade case was born out of a complaint from Suniva and SolarWorld, which argued that cheap foreign imports from China have decimated U.S. companies and eliminated jobs. The duo called for tariffs as steep as 50% to rectify trade imbalances.

In reaction to the federal government’s resolution to impose a 30% tariff, the two companies hinted that may not be steep enough.

“We are still reviewing these remedies, and are hopeful they will be enough to address the import surge and to rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States. We will work with the U.S. government to implement these remedies, including future negotiations, in the strongest way possible to benefit solar manufacturing and its thousands of American workers to ensure that U.S. solar manufacturing is world-class competitive for the long-term,” Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas Inc., said in a statement.

The Trump administration has weighed in on a number of other high-profile trade complaints throughout recent months, including on imported residential washing machines and Bombardier’s CSeries jets.

The government called for a 20% tariff on the first 1.2 million imported washers for the current year, and will increase that fee to 50% for each additional unit.

And while the administration supported Boeing’s (NYSE:BA) suggested 300% tariff against Canadian rival Bombardier over complaints it was dumping its CSeries jet into the U.S. market at unfairly low prices, the tariffs were ultimately not upheld by the U.S. International Trade Court.