Donald Trump is launching a major assault on renewable energy in the guise of a free trade policy.
His 30 percent tariff announced Monday on solar panel imports from nearly every country around the world deals a major blow to the clean energy industry in the United States. It will cost thousands of jobs here — installation is the big job creator in this industry, not manufacturing — and it will raise costs of solar for California homeowners and utilities.
All so the president can further line the pockets of oil and coal tycoons whose industries pollute the environment and deplete the finite supply of fossil fuels.
Trump claims the tariff is necessary to give U.S. solar manufacturers a level playing field. He notes that imports from China, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam constitute more than 80 percent of the solar panels sold in the United States.
But Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Abigail Ross Hopper forecasts that the new policy will cause a net loss of 23,000 jobs because of anticipated delays or cancellations of billions of dollars in solar investments. And energy experts say the tariff is too little, too late to spark a significant increase in solar panel manufacturing in the United States. It will just reduce demand.
Say this for Trump: He is consistent. The president yanked the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord last summer, giving us the dubious distinction of being one of only two countries (the other is Syria) rejecting a goal of reducing carbon emissions. He has opened vast new areas to oil, gas and coal extraction, rolled back regulations on power plant emissions and initiated tax reforms that damage solar and wind financing,
Solar panels have dropped in price by roughly 30 percent since 2016 and, before the tariff, were projected to drop another 27 percent by 2022. That would have helped California meet the Legislature’s mandate for half of the state’s electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030, about double what it is today.
Good luck hitting the target now. The tariff is generally projected to result in a 10-15 percent reduction of solar installations through 2023.
The tariff also risks starting a trade war with China. The president rants and tweets about the trade imbalance between the countries, with China exporting four times more goods to the United States than it imports. If the solar panel tariff draws a response from the Chinese government, however, the battles could affect U.S. steel, tech and agriculture industries. Big ag in particular could be damaged in a trade war with China, and it’s another Trump base.
But this is not about trade, or even about China, since the tariff affects nearly all panel imports. It’s about destroying a clean energy industry to shore up the dirty ones that the president’s friends run. The ultimate cost will be paid by American consumers who will lose the ability to dramatically lower their utility bills.