Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Donavan Gualtier, Vivint Solar foreman, installs solar panels to power an electric vehicle ChargePoint at Suzanne Harrison's home in Draper on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017.

One of President Donald Trump's first major trade decisions will have lasting ramifications for the solar industry in this country. The case, brought forward by two foreign-owned solar panel manufacturers, proposes the United States impose substantial import tariffs on solar panels in order to bolster the competitiveness of American solar panel manufacturing. As a staunch supporter of domestic manufacturing who wants to put “America First,” it seems like an easy choice for the president. But the issue is not as cut and dried as it seems and is fraught with unintended consequences.

As a lifelong Republican, I, like the president, believe in the power of the free market and supporting U.S. job growth. Of equal importance, I also side with the 90 percent of Americans who support more development of solar in the U.S., not less. This is why my company has worked tirelessly to create over 4,000 well-paying U.S.-based jobs across 21 states over the past six years so that we can enable homeowners to go green and save money at the same time. It is also why we, one of the largest residential solar providers in the country, and almost every other solar company source our solar panels from overseas. We need affordable panels to compete with other methods of energy generation and to be able to offer rooftop solar to Americans at an affordable price point.

Taking advantage of the highly competitive free market has enabled the solar industry to drive tremendous innovation, consumer adoption and job growth. Solar is growing nearly 17 times faster than the U.S. economy and created one out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. in 2016. Over 260,000 American workers now belong to this booming industry across the entire production chain — including 38,000 who manufacture hardware, inverters and other critical solar components stateside. The solar industry has been one of the leading economic growth engines in the entire country, bringing well-paying jobs to help fulfill the aspiration of almost every American for the country to embrace solar energy.

The declining cost of installing solar has helped spur this economic engine, with costs dropping by more than 70 percent since 2010. The two foreign-owned petitioners’ proposed tariffs would substantially increase the price of solar panels in the United States. If this were to happen, solar would become unattainable for the majority of Americans, which would significantly reduce demand and lead to devastating job losses across the country. Analysis from Dr. Thomas Prusa, chair of the economics department at Rutgers University, found that imposing these trade penalties could eliminate 64 solar jobs for every one solar panel manufacturing job created. Increasing the price of solar panels is not only bad for our economy, it is also contrary to the will of the American people.

Why should one of our economy’s top contributors be penalized for taking advantage of the free market? Some of the most innovative companies in America, from Apple to Ford to Boeing, source components of their products from overseas to keep their costs as low as possible for consumers. Imported solar panels have enabled a thriving domestic solar industry that has created tens of thousands of installation, sales, service and manufacturing jobs throughout the country — most of which can never be outsourced or automated. These are ideal jobs that we can bank upon, as long as demand for solar remains strong.

While proponents of this trade case believe it will ignite a new era of American manufacturing, unfortunately, factory floors would not be lined with American men and women assembling solar panels. In order to remain low-cost and compete with natural gas and other energy sources, solar panel manufacturing in the U.S. would very likely need to be a completely automated operation. Asian solar manufacturers are now moving to fully automated plants to remain competitive to keep solar the lowest cost of energy across the globe. Hence, there is only downside, not upside in U.S. jobs, by increasing the cost of solar panels for U.S. solar farms or families who prefer rooftop solar. There would simply be net job loss by increasing the cost of solar by forcing solar panel manufacturing to move stateside.

6 comments on this story

We should not derail a key U.S. economic job engine with poorly conceived tariffs that would only help two failing foreign-owned corporations at the expense of an entire domestic industry. As I see it, President Trump can continue to support one of the country’s most promising industries that is truly helping the U.S. become more energy independent from foreign oil and creating permanent U.S. jobs, or he can reward bankrupt foreign-owned companies that are simply looking to exploit U.S. law for a bailout. I encourage this administration to make the right choice and live up to its campaign promise to put America first by putting the hardworking American worker first and respecting the citizens’ desire for the development of more solar power here on American soil.