Reuters reports: U.S. solar companies are snapping up cheap imported solar panels ahead of a trade decision by the Trump administration that could drive up costs and cloud the fortunes of one of the economy’s brightest stars.
Domestic consumers and businesses have been embracing solar energy at a furious pace – thanks to a big assist from China. Low-cost photovoltaic cells and panels made in China and other Asian countries have helped drive down costs by around 70% since 2010, enabling more Americans to go solar.
Installations in the United States last year hit a record. Jobs are mushrooming too. The domestic industry now employs more than 260,000 people, according to The Solar Foundation, most of them construction workers hammering panels on rooftops and erecting utility-scale solar plants in the nation’s blistering deserts.
But signs of a chill are already visible as the industry waits to see how President Donald Trump responds to a recent trade complaint lodged by a Georgia manufacturer named Suniva. The company has asked the administration effectively to double the price of imported solar panels so that U.S. factories can compete. About 95% of cells and panels sold in the U.S. last year were made abroad, with most coming from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to SPV Market Research.
Trump has wide latitude to levy tariffs to protect domestic firms. His actions could determine whether sun-powered electricity can compete with fossil fuels to light the nation’s homes and businesses.
The White House would not comment on the solar trade case. But the administration has vowed to protect steelmakers and other U.S. manufacturers by penalizing “unfair” imports.
That has the solar industry bracing for the worst. Panic buying has sent spot prices for solar panels up as much as 20 percent in recent weeks as installers rush to lock up supplies ahead of potential tariffs.
Skittish U.S. energy customers are putting some solar projects on hold. Manufacturers are eyeing other markets to develop. And some investors are running for cover. Funding for large U.S. solar deals fell to $1.4 billion in the second quarter, down from $3.2 billion in the first quarter and $1.7 billion a year earlier, primarily due to concerns about the trade case, according to research firm Mercom Capital Group. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900 percent by one estimate.
That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2 percent, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.
But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.
Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.
Their effort has met with considerable success, dimming the prospects for renewable energy across the United States.
Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)
Many more states are considering new or higher fees on solar customers.
“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” Jeffrey Ostermayer of the Edison Electric Institute, the most prominent utility lobbying group, said in a statement.
The same group of investor-owned utilities is now poised to sway solar policy at the federal level. Brian McCormack, a former top executive at the Edison institute, is Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff. The Energy Department did not make Mr. McCormack available for an interview.
In April, Mr. Perry ordered an examination of how renewable energy may be hurting conventional sources like coal, oil and natural gas, a study that environmentalists worry could upend federal policies that have fostered the rapid spread of solar and wind power.
Charged with spearheading the study, due this summer, is Mr. McCormack.
“There’s no doubt these utilities are out to kill rooftop solar, and they’re succeeding,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group. “They’re now driving the agenda.” [Continue reading…]