On November 13th, the American solar industry could be dealt a dramatic blow by the Trump administration. On that date the International Trade Commission will issue a trade recommendation that could put Trump in a position to place hefty tariffs on imported solar panels. The tariffs, depending on their severity, could mean a downward turn in the solar installation business here in the United States.
Consistent with global manufacturing as a whole, solar installers across the country have relied on imported panels to meet growing demand because of drastically lower prices and quality differences in panels produced abroad. For these reasons the most common solar panels used by New York installers, including Brooklyn SolarWorks, are imported. Companies like LG, Silfab, and Sunpreme make some of the highest quality panels for their price. If tariffs are placed on panels from these companies, it will likely cost $2,000 or more for us to source these panels or panels of similar quality for each of our jobs. A cost that, as the economic lingo goes, will then be passed on to our customers.
Although the ITC’s final recommendation is no clear indication of what President Trump will ultimately decide to do, the tone that he’s used to approach international trade (especially that with China) has many of us scared. Trump’s call for tariffs had been hard to ignore. In a conversation with John Kelly, he pouted like a child for them. “Tariffs. I want Tariffs” has stuck with us like a kind of haunting mantra from the Orange Kid in the oval office.
As a local solar installer, we’ve already seen the prices of solar panels increase marginally in anticipation of some sort of solar tariff. The uncertainty and severity of this trade case has driven a number of commercial companies to stockpile thousands of panels at current prices. There’s almost complete consensus that whatever is coming… it isn’t good.
With pending change so clearly present in many of our internal communications as a company, it’s hard to accurately describe how frustrating this occurrence is from the industry’s perspective as a whole. The two companies that first filed “anti-dumping” claims, Suniva and SolarWorld, were notorious for poor service. Due to production issues, panels from Suniva and SolarWorld were frequently under delivered. It was difficult to accurately predict their availability. We rarely did business with either company. It hurts even worse to know that the majority of both companies’ shares were owned by foreign conglomerates. The whole thing has this aura of “un-American-ness” that’s unnaturally frustrating and reflective of our nation’s current political status.
At the present moment we’re recommending that any of our potential customers “get in” before we change our pricing to reflect the increases in solar panel module prices. Although we’re still going to be in business, and the lifeblood of our business isn’t going to change, locking in a price before Trump interferes seems like the only fair way to guarantee that we’ll be able to build systems at their quoted price. We’re not sure how quickly Trump will jump on the recommendation from the ITC. His ultimate decision could come as late as the middle of January. Or it could come the minute he receives the official recommendation from the ITC: November 13th.