Solar panels, washing machine imports levied in joint decision

A decision was announced Monday on imported solar panels: the U.S. government elected to place tariffs on the renewable energy product in an effort to combat hyper-cheap production costs coming from major manufacturing points like China, South Korea, and India. Tariff-rate quotas on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar cells and modules will increase up to 30% for the first year, then recede to 25% in Year 2, 20% in Year 3, and 15% in Year 4.

The decision sparked responses from both sides of the table, with particular outcry from the solar sector of the renewable energy industry. Solar installation and repair workers, as well as some manufacturers, have been biting their nails as far back as September, when a complaint from two major solar companies (Suniva and SolarWorld) was motioned to the International Trade Commission.

Instant debate as to whether or not this will produce or kill jobs in the United States. Since its origins, Suniva and SolarWorld’s complaint and ensuing request for protection was cause for worry for a bulk of the U.S. solar industry.

Solar industry experts warn against the tariffs. The SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) told CBS in September that a global tariff could cause a sharp price hike that could force the U.S. to lose out on solar installations capable of powering more than 9 million homes over the next five years — more than has been installed to date. States could forfeit billions of dollars of infrastructure investment and risk approximately 90,000 solar-related jobs—one-third of the 260,000 total—in the U.S. if the tariffs are imposed.

SEIA—the solar industry’s largest trade association—also pointed out that despite identifying as “American” companies, Suniva and SolarWorld are both majority-owned by Chinese and German shareholders, respectively.

Some argue that the tariffs are lenient, as they were not as severe as those proposed by Suniva and SolarWorld in the original complaint. Also, several U.S. solar manufacturers are optimistic, having launched expansion plans since the ruling.

The price hike could prevent overall consumption and usage of the product, especially by energy companies who have either just started—or are on the cusp of—implementing wind and solar into their foundations for utility-scale electrical distribution. 23,000 installers, engineers and project managers to lose their jobs this year as billions of dollars in planned investment evaporates, according to SEIA.

The state of North Carolina immediately proclaimed it would lead a charge to “save the U.S. solar industry”, with Duke Energy proposing a $62 million rebate program for community solar.

Washing machines: The joint announcement also addressed cheap, surplus production of washing machines—a grievance voiced by American manufacturers such as Whirlpool over the past few years against China but not necessarily expected to be moved on in this fashion. Tariffs on washing machines will start at up to 50% the first year, falling back to 45% and 40% in Years 2 and 3, respectively. These tariff-rate quotas on washers will only apply after the first 1.2 million units of imported finished washers from a given manufacturer, which will still carry tariffs of 20%, 18%, and 16% in their first three years.

Whirlpool in particular had complained that Korean makers were able to import large amounts of washing machines in the U.S. at excessively low prices from 2012 to 2016.

Experts have estimated that the decision could force Whirlpool and other American producers to raise prices—by a half to three-quarters of the 30% increase passed to consumers by their foreign competitors—in order to keep up. The tariff may already affect consumers who need a washer repaired, since imported parts are also covered by the ruling.

The decision(s) mark the first major moves on trade from the Trump administration since his withdrawal from a Pacific trade deal last year along with negotiations to withdraw from NAFTA. Limiting established trade policies was a campaign pledge aimed at housing more American manufacturing and levying competition from cheaper foreign imports.



  1. Spin Cycle | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - February 8, 2018

    […] for which the company was at least a partially influential trigger. That tariff was part of a double announcement in new trade legislature that also includes solar panel […]

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