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Vermont Solar Companies Concerned New Tariff Will Slow Industry Growth

In anticipation of the tariff, SunCommon stockpiled solar panels to try to keep prices low for as long as possible. President Donald Trump enacted a tariff on imported solar panels and cells that many in the industry say will slow down growth.
James Moore, Courtesy
President Donald Trump enacted a tariff on imported solar panels and cells that many in the industry say will slow down growth. In anticipation of the tariff, SunCommon stockpiled solar panels - seen above - to try to keep prices low as long as possible.

A new tariff on imported solar panels and cells has solar companies across the country, including ones in Vermont, worried that the that growth of the burgeoning industry will slow down.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced Monday that President Donald Trump approved the tariffs, which start at 30 percent and eventually decline to 15 percent after four years.

The U.S. International Trade Commission recommended the tariffs to the president last year after two bankrupt solar companies brought a trade case before the commission. The companies said that cheap foreign solar panels were harming the domestic industry.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry, criticized the tariff and said it would lead to a loss of jobs.

In a press release issued Monday, SEIA said: “The decision effectively will cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs this year, including many in manufacturing, and it will result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments.”

In Vermont, some solar companies reacted to the new tariff with disappointment.

“It’s going to have an impact of slowing us down at a time when we need to be ramping up and delivering more and more clean energy solutions to our infrastructure,” said Chad Farrell, founder and CEO of Encore Renewable Energy.

Farrell said he doesn’t think there will be any staffing cuts at his company, but he said he was worried about contractors and vendors that work with his company.

“I know they’re incredibly concerned — a lot of the folks that are in the trenches, behind the scenes, creating the equipment we need to deploy these projects," he said. "And with fewer of those [projects] deployed, there will be a direct impact on a lot of those downstream jobs.”

Back in September, when the tariffs were just a possibility, Doug Wells — who runs his company, the Solar Specialists, out of his house — told VPR that he didn’t think the tariffs would derail the industry.

Wells said he stands by that assessment though he still has to look over all the details of the tariff.

“It would be foolish to say it would kill the industry," he said Tuesday. “It will impact us but we’re not sure. I guess we’ll have to see.”

James Moore, co-founder of SunCommon — a Waterbury-based solar installer — said the company pre-bought as many solar panels as they could to try to keep prices low for as long as possible.

“We hope to have enough panels to get us through the first part of this year and then we’re working hard to turn every dial that we can so hopefully there isn’t much price impact,” he said.

Moore said that now that the tariff has been enacted, he feels split – he said he’s proud of how SunCommon worked to prepare, but the fact the tariff was put into place was still a disappointment.  

“Yeah, it’s a total drag," Moore said. “Like this is the exact wrong direction for our nation to be headed. You don’t see the Trump administration putting taxes on imported oil, but they’re putting taxes on solar. It’s wrongheaded and the wrong direction.”

Disclosure: Encore Renewable Energy is a VPR underwriter

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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