It’s All About Jobs, But Tariffs on Solar Threaten to Decimate Them
Trade Dispute Looms over Upcoming Solar Power International Conference
Solar Power International (SPI) is set to shine bright again this year in Las Vegas September 11 through 13. Named “Most Engaging Show Floor” by Trade Show Executive magazine and ranked by that publication as the 25th fastest-growing event, SPI has been winning accolades. And with good reason: the leading solar expo and conference brings together 18,000 attendees and 600 exhibitors from 80 countries across the solar industry to take advantage of opportunities to learn, connect, and compete.
TerraSmart is looking forward to building new partnerships at SPI and advance profitability for large-scale PV construction. With some of the biggest systems online or under construction in rising solar states, we are on track for a successful year.
But a looming battle over tariffs on imported modules means there’s far more at stake this year. In one of the most significant solar trade cases ever, two module manufacturers are threatening the entire industry with a petition to raise tariffs on all solar imports into the U.S. If successful, this could disrupt solar’s long-term viability. So TerraSmart is joining the industry battle to keep solar competitive in America.
At risk: Two-thirds of America’s solar capacity and one-third of the industry’s workforce
Two bankrupt manufacturers owned by Chinese and German entities could single-handedly derail the industry. A petition to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) by Suniva and SolarWorld requests tariffs on imported solar equipment that would turn solar into a cost-prohibitive option. The petition calls for a $0.40 per watt tariff on cells and a floor price of $0.78 per watt on modules, more than doubling the price of solar panels, according to Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. If approved by the U.S. International Trade Commission and President Trump, more than 47 GW of solar installations will no longer be competitive and will not come online. That’s more than what the U.S. solar market has installed to date.
The industry has worked for years to lower solar costs to consumers through innovation, production scale, improved business practices and greater understanding of solar technologies. A sudden doubling of prices would be devastating, slashing new solar installations between 2018 and 2022 from 72 GW to just 36 GW, or even less.
It would be a double loss for the U.S. to lose solar’s environmental benefits and the precious economic stimulus it provides as well. Organizations like the Solar Energy Industry Association predict PV-related jobs will plummet across the industry in sectors ranging from manufacturing to installation. If these tariffs are applied, nearly 88,000 jobs will be at risk, including 4,700 in North Carolina, 6,300 in Texas, and 7,000 in South Carolina.
Solar’s winning recipe in America
It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to disrupt the industry’s growth. Year after year, solar enthusiasts are baffled over American PV’s fast-paced growth. At the end of this year’s first quarter, solar had grown by two gigawatts (GW) of installed base for six consecutive quarters. With 44.7 GW of capacity already generating clean electricity nationwide, solar powers nearly 9 million American homes. Left to its own devices, this bright sector would more than double over the next five years, surpassing 100 GW nationwide. Such strong adoption contributes to prices that are competitive with conventional power, making solar energy one of the fastest-growing forms of new electricity capacity in the U.S.
In this innovative market, new business models like community solar are rising as some of the earliest state incentives sunset, transforming the sustainable sector into a viable economic force. As an industry, solar has grown to $23 billion and now employs 260,000 Americans. Solar job growth outpaces the overall U.S. economy by a factor of 17 year-over-year from 2015 to 2016 and is expected to add 100,000 more workers by 2020, with sectors like manufacturing up 58 percent in just five years.
TerraSmart mirrors industry’s explosive growth
Fast-growing industries like solar are led by high-performing companies. North America turns to racking leader TerraSmart to engineer, design, and manufacture ground-mount systems for commercial and utility-scale solar projects. In just two years, TerraSmart has grown more than 200 percent and anticipates hitting new milestones in 2017.
With decades of experience in metal fabrication and over one gigawatt of installed capacity, we have built some of the country’s largest installations.
Recent projects include:
- The second largest installation in New York state where TerraSmart’s advanced racking technology was selected to convert a former golf course into a 42 MW facility. TerraSmart began construction on the fixed-tilt system in May and will use its high-yield TF2 rack and turnkey installation to get the project generating revenue fast.
- Maine’s largest PV system. TerraSmart’s industry-defining ground screws are the only solution for penetrating the rugged rock terrain at this 10 MW project. Combined with its latest generation TF2 Landscape rack, TerraSmart delivered a flexible, cost-effective solution to help Maine build its solar capacity.
- The first and largest utility-scale solar plant on U.S. tribal lands. This 353 MW system on the Moapa River Indian Reservation in Clark County, Nevada was awarded Solar Builder magazine’s Project of the Year and is a testament to TerraSmart’s surveying, drilling, ground screw and fixed-tilt mounting solutions.
Superior racking and defining ground screws put us ahead, but TerraSmart has more firepower in its armament: Its turnkey installation service and use of autonomous tech help streamline builds and cut construction costs. With a fleet of aerial mapping drones, TerraSmart brings plants on-line faster with detailed topography data early in the layout phase. Its renown space survey rover triples speed and also ensure accuracy for faster, better solar.
But an international dispute over tariffs may put solar’s explosive growth in jeopardy.
TerraSmart takes a stand for manufacturing jobs
Ultra-low pricing within utility-scale solar means that companies in this sector will be first in the line of fire. Ironically, a large part of the manufacturing that remains viable in the U.S. is for solar racking and tracking equipment, most of which supports utility PV. TerraSmart is one of the great success stories of the solar manufacturing boom, fabricating value-added equipment using American-made steel right here in the U.S.
In a recent op-ed for the Washington Examiner, TerraSmart President Ryan Reid illustrates the impact of the proposed new tariffs. With its own steel racking manufacturing plant in Columbus, Ohio, and partnerships with other factories in Illinois and Michigan, TerraSmart has grown more than 15-fold in seven years. TerraSmart is one of many companies the Midwest rust belt and the Deep South that is producing racking and other solar equipment for U.S. generation using American-made steel.
“The viability of my plants, and the entire solar industry, and the jobs it has created, is at risk,” Reid says. “Our entire industry knows that this trade case isn’t about creating jobs or bringing back investment. That’s why no actual American solar company is backing it. No, this case is about two bankrupt foreign companies and their hedge-fund backers seeking a multimillion-dollar bailout at the expense of hundreds of thousands of American workers in the thriving solar industry.”
Clearly, solar industry executives agree that tariffs would crush domestic solar demand, throwing hundreds of thousands of American workers onto the street. President Trump has been a great defender of the American factory worker, Reid says. Now he has an opportunity to support the many manufacturing workers in the solar industry. “We are counting on the president to make the right call, because this case is the difference between creating more good-paying manufacturing jobs or shutting our doors.”
The International Trade Commission will issue its ruling on the petition September 22 – just one week after Solar Power International. If commissioners grant the petition’s demands, they would send recommendations to the president’s desk. In theory, his decision to implement penalties would come in late January 2018. Until then, the industry will be holding its breath, dampening the otherwise celebratory mood in Las Vegas.