Big solar projects shelved, job reduced after Trump panel tariff

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President Donald Trump’s tariff on imported solar panels has led U.S. renewable energy companies to cancel or freeze investments of more than $2.5 billion in large installation projects, Reuters reported.

That’s more than double the about $1 billion in new spending plans announced by firms building or expanding U.S. solar panel factories to take advantage of the tax on imports.

US announced the tariff in January over protests from most of the solar industry that the move would chill one of America’s fastest-growing sectors.

Solar developers completed utility-scale installations costing a total of $6.8 billion last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Those investments were driven by U.S. tax incentives and the falling costs of imported panels, mostly from China, which together made solar power competitive with natural gas and coal.

The U.S. solar industry employs more than 250,000 people – about three times more than the coal industry – with about 40 percent of those people in installation and 20 percent in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

GTM Research, a clean energy research firm, recently lowered its 2019 and 2020 utility-scale solar installation forecasts in the United States by 20 percent and 17 percent, respectively, citing the levies.

The bankruptcy of Suniva – a Chinese-owned, U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer, prompted the Trump administration to consider a tariff.

Companies with domestic panel factories are divided on the policy. Solar giant SunPower opposes the tariff that will help its U.S. panel factories because it will also hurt its domestic installation and development business, along with its overseas manufacturing operations.

The 30 percent tariff is scheduled to last four years, decreasing by 5 percent per year during that time. Solar developers say the levy will initially raise the cost of major installations by 10 percent.

Leading utility-scale developer Cypress Creek Renewables said it had been forced to cancel or freeze $1.5 billion in projects – mostly in the Carolinas, Texas and Colorado – because the tariff raised costs beyond the level where it could compete.

That amounted to about 150 projects at various stages of development that would have employed 3,000 or more workers during installation. The projects accounted for a fifth of the company’s overall pipeline.

Developer Southern Current has made similar decisions on about $1 billion of projects, mainly in South Carolina

Cypress Creek and Southern Current do not want to disclose exactly which projects they intend to cancel.

Both are among a group of solar developers that have asked trade officials to exclude panels used in their utility-scale projects from the tariffs.

Solar project builder McCarthy Building Companies planned to employ about 1,200 people on solar projects this year but slashed that number by half because of the tariff.

Pine Gate will complete about half of the 400 megawatts of solar installations it had planned this year and has ditched plans to hire 30 permanent employees.

The company withdrew an 80-megawatt project that would have cost up to $150 million from consideration in a bidding process held by Southern utility Georgia Power. It pulled the proposal late last year when it learned the Trump administration was contemplating the tariff.

Trump’s tariff has boosted the domestic manufacturing sector as intended, which over time could significantly raise U.S. panel production and reduce prices.

Panel manufacturers First Solar and JinkoSolar have announced plans to spend $800 million on projects to increase panel construction in the United States since the tariff, creating about 700 new jobs in Ohio and Florida.

Korea’s Hanwha Q CELLS said it will open a solar module factory in Georgia next year.

SunPower purchased U.S. manufacturer SolarWorld’s Oregon factory after the tariff was announced, saving that facility’s 280 jobs. The company said it plans to hire more people at the plant to expand operations.

SunPower said it must cut up to 250 jobs in other parts of its organization because of the tariffs.

Heliene – a Canadian company in the process of opening a U.S. facility capable of producing 150 megawatts worth of panels per year – said it will employ between 130 and 140 workers in Minnesota.

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