On the Solar Tariffs

The Trump administration’s announcement this week of high trade tariffs on imported solar panels and components continues his war on sensible energy policy and threatens a United States industry that employs as many as 260,000 Americans. The move was anticipated and is consistent with the Interior Department’s recent decision to open many of the country’s coastal waters to oil exploitation.

On Monday, the Trump administration said it would impose a 30-percent tax on solar panels from China in response to what it said was the dumping of below-market-value solar equipment. The White House move also helps prop up the faltering coal industry, which has had a difficult time competing with cheaper fuels, like natural gas, wind, and, yes, solar.

In the long term, domestic panel manufacturers could see gains, but a solar industry group said that 23,000 U.S. jobs would be lost this year alone. The huge growth in the residential use of solar energy has been attributed to the falling cost of imported panels. Take that away, and consumer demand falls, too.

For solar installers, including several on the East End, the tariffs will force prices up. This is likely to depress demand, especially since the generous utility rebates that drove consumer enthusiasm a few years ago have expired and generally have not been renewed. 

Large scale wind-power generation, like the project planned for a site east of Montauk, is near the top of the U.S.’s renewable energy portfolio over all. However, solar home systems remain an important potential source of electricity on the South Fork, especially in summer, when demand skyrockets. Putting unnecessary impediments in the path of those who would like to move away from fossil fuels is a grave mistake.

With the looming threat of climate change — observed here on the East End in the accelerating rate of coastal erosion due to sea level rise — every possible step toward an energy future that is more dependent on renewables is a step that is needed.