The Biden administration is ending its hands-off approach in a Commerce Department tariff investigation that effectively froze the U.S. solar industry.
A probe into whether Chinese solar makers had misrouted parts through four other Asian countries had cut solar installation forecasts by nearly half – and that at a time when China’s ambitious clean energy program White House Biden is stuck in Congress.
Moving the country quickly from fossil fuels to clean energy is one of President Biden’s main goals.
But a legally required trade investigation in response to a U.S. solar panel maker’s complaint has left the administration in a bind: trying to both spur a transition to zero-emissions power generation by 2035 and Conducting a “quasi-judicial” Commerce Department investigation, the administration conceded that it had no legal authority to arrest or fire had hobbled the solar industry.
On Monday, the administration announced a compromise: the investigation will continue, but the solar panels can be imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam for two years without fear of high retroactive tariffs – giving the solar industry some certainty as it awaits the Commerce Department’s decision.
Speaking to reporters in the background, a White House official defended the move. The tariff law, the official said, authorizes the secretary of commerce and the president to take emergency action. “And here he [Biden] uses this authority to ensure the reliable supply of solar components to Southeast Asian countries. … which play a key role in the reliable supply of solar energy [panels].”
The solar industry applauded the move.
“The president’s action is a much-needed reprieve from this industry-destroying probe,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Last month, Hopper told NPR of his concerns that the ongoing pricing inquiry was “wiping out a decade of solar job growth.”
The White House views the import window as a “bridge” to a time when domestic solar manufacturing is much more robust.
The U.S. solar industry has grown exponentially in recent years, but falls far short of the pace needed to meet Biden’s goal of a net carbon-neutral energy sector over the next 13 years.
In an effort to accelerate this growth even further, Biden is also invoking the Defense Production Act to help expand US manufacturing of solar panels, as well as other clean energy technologies like building insulation, efficient heat pumps for buildings, fuel cell equipment and energy. network infrastructure like transformers. The president is also directing the federal government to also increase the amount of US-made solar panels and clean technology products it purchases.
If production increases as expected, the administration expects domestic solar manufacturing to triple by 2024. “Enough,” the administration official said, “to enable more than 3.3 million households per year to switch to solar energy”.