New 30% U.S. tax on solar cells threatens jobs, Apple's renewable energy efforts

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 24
Apple has made solar energy a key part of its commitments to achieve 100 percent renewable energy use across its corporate, retail, production and even its data center facilities. However, a steep new American tariff slapped on all solar components threatens to derail the rapidly-growing American solar industry and kill tens of thousands of desirable jobs.


Lisa Jackson, Apple's Senior Vice President for Vice President Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives


This week, after U.S. President Trump chose to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and panels, Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) issued a statement saying that "while tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs."

Hopper added, "this decision is misguided and denies the reality that bankrupt foreign companies will be the beneficiaries of an American taxpayer bailout."

Eugene Wilkie of the Washington-based Now Solar, which bills itself as "your residential, commercial and farm solar experts," tweeted, "as a solar company, we are devastated to learn Trump has imposed a 30% tariff on solar panels virtually killing the solar industry. Solar employs more people than coal and oil combined. Today's decision will cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs this year."

An ITC import battle among foreign owned corporations

Explaining the idea behind the new tax, Wilkie stated that "on one side are manufacturers SolarWorld, a U.S. subsidiary of a German company, and Georgia-based Suniva, majority-owned by a Hong Kong firm. Both complained to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) that cheap imports, mostly from China, were killing them. They filed their ITC complaint under a seldom-used statute in which the criteria is nearly impossible to refute. Commissioners needed only to find that large numbers of an imported product were undercutting a U.S. manufacturer."

Growth in the U.S. solar installation industry has benefitted by rapidly falling prices in solar panels from China. American solar manufacturers have fallen behind in technology and production capacity because the U.S. hasn't invested in domestic solar research, development and production--just as it hasn't invested in manufacturing or training specialized tool and die workers and other critical components of the manufacturing supply chain--in the way China enthusiastically has. Much of the new research in solar technology has also been funded in Germany, which Wilkie said holds the majority of patents.

As a result, American firms can't compete in building inferior solar panels domestically, and can't even import foreign components to assemble panels in the U.S. due to the Trump tariffs covering anything related to solar. Rather than supporting domestic manufacturing of solar panels, which barely even exists, the primary impact of the new protectionism will be the killing of jobs of professional installers, the small businesses that hire them and of solar-related manufacturing.

Wilkie stated that the new tariff, according to solar industry projections, "will send the price of solar panels surging and halt hiring in an industry that has grown 17 times faster than the U.S. economy," adding that it is "projected it will cost the industry 88,000 jobs nationwide, about 34 percent of the 260,000 Americans employed in solar in 2017, according to calculations released last June by SEIA. At risk would be 6,300 jobs in Texas, 4,700 in N.C. and a whopping 7,000 in S.C."

Wilkie also noted that the U.S. government's investments and support of solar have always been dwarfed by direct subsidies paid out to the oil and coal fossil fuel industry, "corporate welfare" that tops more than $20 billion annually.

Calling the tariffs a "huge mistake," Wilkie stated that "our company, that does quite well, services farming areas where the majority are hardcore Republicans who invest in solar only because of its return on investment and ability to own their own financial destiny when it concerns energy. They have been blowing our phones up for the last four hours trying to get their systems purchased before the new tariff takes effect."

Solar employs more Americans than coal and oil combined

In a thread, Wilkie noted that "In the last decade, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 68%. Nearly 260,000 Americans work in solar--more than double the number in 2012--at more than 9,000 companies in every U.S. state," adding that "in 2016, Solar installed 39% of all new electric generating capacity, topping all other technologies for the first time. Solar's increasing competitiveness against other technologies has allowed it to quickly increase its share of total U.S. electrical generation."

Profiling the installers who work in the U.S. solar industry, Wilkie stated, "the solar industry employs the kind of 'forgotten' Americans whom Trump champions: small contractors who employ blue-collar workers earning a median of $26 an hour; one in 10 are veterans."

In addition to affecting solar installers, the SEIA estimates that the new tariff "will eliminate, not add to, American manufacturing jobs," noting that "there were 38,000 jobs in solar manufacturing in the U.S. at the end of 2016, and all but 2,000 made something other than cells and panels, the subject of this case. Those 36,000 Americans manufactured metal racking systems, high-tech inverters, machines that improved solar panel output by tracking the sun and other electrical products."

It cited Bill Vietas, president of RBI Solar in Cincinnati, as saying, "There's no doubt this decision will hurt U.S. manufacturing, not help it."

"This is a bad day for the U.S.," stated Costa Nicolaou, president and CEO of PanelClaw, an American racking company. "What's most disappointing is that the president sided with two foreign-owned companies and didn't listen to Americans from across the country and political spectrum who understood tariffs will cause great economic pain for so many families in the solar sector."

Apple's ambitious solar investments


Apple's solar field in Maiden, NC


Apple has long been a leader in U.S. solar installations. In 2012, Apple "built the nation's largest end user-owned, onsite solar photovoltaic array on land surrounding the data center" in Maiden, N.C., a 100 acre, 20 megawatt system (shown above) that the company subsequently doubled in size.

Along with solar, the company has also invested in geothermal, hydropower, wind power and fuel cells powered by landfill biogas.

However, solar has played a huge role in Apple's iCloud data centers as well as its new Apple Park campus, where solar panels cover its parking structures as well as the signature Spaceship building, creating a 16MW rooftop solar photovoltaic system that's among the largest onsite corporate solar energy installations in the world. Apple Park functions as its own power grid to enable continued operations even in a utility outage. The site has power controllers that enable it to operate autonomously, balancing energy supply (from solar, fuel cells, battery storage and backup generators) and energy consumption.

Apple has already built out much of its intended solar infrastructure in the U.S., and has also invested $850M in what Tim Cook called in 2015 its "biggest, boldest and most ambitious project ever," a long-term commitment to buy enough solar energy from a Monterey County solar field operated by First Solar to power all of its offices, retail sites and other facilities in California.

However, the new tax on solar components means that it will now be prohibitively expensive to procure solar panels or the parts needed to assemble them for use in the United States for most buyers, particularly including home, smaller commercial facilities and farm installations. And the tens of thousands of American workers who install or manufacture solar-related parts will be hit hardest, with no real alternative work available.

The move is also likely to shift Apple's investments in solar power to new installations outside the U.S., where advanced solar panels will still be available.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 37
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,873member
    This is truly awful.
    chiadysamoriaoseamebrertechmagman1979douglas baileyfrankiejony0lolliver
  • Reply 2 of 37
    prokipprokip Posts: 135member
    Apple just made a killing on repatriation of its overseas hoard of cash, care of Trump.  Now they have to pay a bit more for their virtue signalling and gesture crap on solar panels, ( I mean has anyone really done the numbers in sunk energy associated with producing and installing solar panels, and please don't get me started on wind power, the carbon contribution of making, installing and maintaining those monsters- literally they are 'monsters' - is never recovered).

    It's called swings and roundabouts.

    Suck it up Apple !
    sdw2001patchythepirateJWSCentropys
  • Reply 3 of 37
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,873member
    prokip said:
    Apple just made a killing on repatriation of its overseas hoard of cash, care of Trump.  Now they have to pay a bit more for their virtue signalling and gesture crap on solar panels, ( I mean has anyone really done the numbers in sunk energy associated with producing and installing solar panels, and please don't get me started on wind power, the carbon contribution of making, installing and maintaining those monsters- literally they are 'monsters' - is never recovered).

    It's called swings and roundabouts.

    Suck it up Apple !
    There is only a “carbon contribution” if the energy used to manufacture is generated using carbon fuels. That certainly need not be the case. Renewable energy can be used to manufacture renewable energy generation equipment. 

    Is that not obvious?
    chiaLoneStar88tmayviclauyycdysamoriaMacsplosionjeffharrisphone-ui-guyronnbrertech
  • Reply 4 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,224administrator
    You'll note that this is both politically oriented, and comments are open. We'll try it out, and see how it goes.

    However, if you know you're going to get riled up about it, read our revised commenting guidelines first.
    chiadick applebaumtmaychristophbviclauyycdysamoriaredgeminipapatchythepiratejSnivelybrertech
  • Reply 5 of 37
    We fought this battle back in the 70's & 80's trying to protect American Steel...  Now the Mon river is lined with beautiful trees instead of ugly steel mills...   Well, there are a few ghettos along the way:   Homestead, Braddock, McKeesport, Dravosburg, Clairiton....  Globalization & free trade did not kill those mills, it was a response to their death after they were killed by foreign competition -- and it was a key part in rejuvenating a failing economy.

    Protectionism didn't work then.   It won't work now no matter how loud we chant USA!  USA!  USA!...

    mdriftmeyerchiatmayviclauyycdysamoriaredgeminipaMacProanton zuykovchaickajeffharris
  • Reply 6 of 37
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,036member
    With one hand he giveth…

    With the other hand he fondles pornstars in hotel suites…

    …allegedly. 


    edited January 24 peterhartviclauyycredgeminipajeffharrisronnJWSCbrertechmagman1979frankieSoli
  • Reply 7 of 37
    Nuclear has a higher energy density anyway.  We should be moving to that for large scale applications.
    racerhomie3christophbSpamSandwichJWSCbrucemcjony0
  • Reply 8 of 37
    There are people, groups, and companies that truly want to see humanity thrive in new ways and there are people that are of the old school opinions that we're doing just fine...and those singular people still get the final say. I feel that when all the "old money" leaders are gone, only then will we have a chance to grow. <Sigh>
    blastdoorviclauyycdysamoriaredgeminipajeffharrisphone-ui-guyronnjony0lolliver
  • Reply 9 of 37
    Shrug...

    Someone bribed a Congressman, someone didn’t...

    Oops!

    ... when you’re buying a politician, make sure it’s the right one.

    The market will eventually adjust.  Someone like SunPower will build a plant here.  There will probably be losses in jobs near term, and some gained by a new factory.  The question is, will there be a Net gain long term?  No idea...

    Protectionism lives.  This is similar to India demanding iPhones sold in India being made in India...

    With regards to solar panels, it seems a little to late.  The innovation is occurring outside the USA, so probably a foreign company is going to benefit anyways.

    If this was going to make an impact, the tariff should have happened 10 years ago.  This isn’t going to save coal (for power generation) that ship has already sailed.

    Someone is going down the list of campaign promises, not necessarily looking at what’s good for the country.
    edited January 24 viclauyycredgeminipaJWSCjony0cornchip
  • Reply 10 of 37
    I don't think these tariffs are really about solar cells or washing machines...

    Rather, they are a statement that the US will not accept unfair trade policies.
    chabig[Deleted User]GG1SpamSandwichpatchythepirateboltsfan17d_2h2pcornchip
  • Reply 11 of 37
    prokip said:
    Apple just made a killing on repatriation of its overseas hoard of cash, care of Trump.  Now they have to pay a bit more for their virtue signalling and gesture crap on solar panels, ( I mean has anyone really done the numbers in sunk energy associated with producing and installing solar panels, and please don't get me started on wind power, the carbon contribution of making, installing and maintaining those monsters- literally they are 'monsters' - is never recovered).

    It's called swings and roundabouts.

    Suck it up Apple !
    It’s actually called yet another anti-Trump, obviously biased DED essay! One important plank of our President’s campaign was BALANCED TRADE with China. So this is another example of a promise kept. I didn’t see DED mentioning anything about this tariff being an opportunity for the US to start developing ITS solar manufacturing—which it is!
    dick applebaum[Deleted User]georgie01christophbGG1patchythepirateh2pcornchip
  • Reply 12 of 37
    30% should not derail Apple's efforts.  Are you telling me that US based manufacturing can't figure out a way to produce competitive panels?  I really don't know what the overall answer is but it seems we should be figuring our what is fair manufacturing cost basis.  Essentially neutralizing foreign government subsidies that allow dumping into the US.  Double edged because do we want super low costs of products or do we want jobs...not sure we can get em both without our government doing subsidies and not sure that is a great tactic or is it?
    chabiggeorgie01cornchip
  • Reply 13 of 37
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,543member
    Making America Great Again...thats all that needs to be said! 
  • Reply 14 of 37
    I understand PV as having large environmental impact in raw material extraction, production, transport and disposal. Are they possible to contemplate without fossil fuels for use ? Is care required in such comparisons given the many apparent assumptions and possible narrow criteria ?

    https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/11/141111-solar-panel-manufacturing-sustainability-ranking/

    http://www.solarscorecard.com/2014/

    edited January 24 patchythepirate
  • Reply 15 of 37
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,873member
    peterhart said:
    There are people, groups, and companies that truly want to see humanity thrive in new ways and there are people that are of the old school opinions that we're doing just fine...and those singular people still get the final say. I feel that when all the "old money" leaders are gone, only then will we have a chance to grow. <Sigh>
     Indeed! This makes me think of two quotes: 

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.“ — Max Planck

    ” you are not ready for immortality.” — Kosh Naranek
    ronnpeterhartjony0lolliverbadmonk
  • Reply 16 of 37
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 2,622member
    This news made it into an editorial of a Spanish national daily this morning (el País) which was critical of the protectionist stance the US government is taking. It said imported washing machines were also affected and that China would not take it laying down.

    With the recent breakthrough with magnesium in solar cell efficiency, I thought prices would start coming down in the not too distant future.
    h2plolliver
  • Reply 17 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,224administrator
    That didn't take long. 

    If you can't see your comment, re-read the commenting guidelines. Still open, for now.
    patchythepirateSoli
  • Reply 18 of 37
    Just like how fascist Obama wanted to kill coal with his hands, Trump also wants to kill global solar ,with his hands.

    Tip for future presidents, don’t touch trade.
    Just enforce current laws.
    edited January 24 JWSCcornchip
  • Reply 19 of 37
    FWIW...

    A pioneer of solar cellsEdit

    The invention of the transistor in 1948 must have had an effect on Leslie Hoffman. In the early 1950s, he took a major interest in solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells. When Bell Labs introduced the solar cell to the world in 1951 it was only a curiosity. It had a very poor light-to-electricity conversion efficiency of 2 percent, and was very fragile and expensive to fabricate. Several manufacturers, including Hoffman, managed to improve the efficiency to 4.5 percent by 1954, but photovoltaic cells were still impractical.

    Hoffman KP706 Trans Solar Radio (1959), running on batteries or with a Hoffman solar cell array on the top.

    Hoffman made great strides in making the solar cell a practical and useful source of renewable energy. From 1957 to 1960, he improved its efficiency from 4.5 to 14 percent and lowered the production cost to make it a marketable item. One of Hoffman's great achievements was the first satellite to be powered by solar cells, the Vanguard 1, launched in 1958.[8]The solar arrays or panels are Hoffman photovoltaic cells. In 1959 H. Leslie Hoffman received the David Packard Medal of Achievement for innovation.[9] In 1959 he was one of the board of directors for the Electronic Industries Association (EIA).

    The success of Vanguard 1 led Hoffman to broaden the use of his solar cells into other products and applications. In 1959, the launch of the U.S. satellite Explorer 6 had solar arrays using 9,600 Hoffman solar cells. The Consumer Products Division introduced a transistor radio line that operated with solar cells or batteries. It was called the Hoffman Trans Solar Radio.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Hoffman

    I was the manager of Data Processing for Hoffman Semiconductor in 1960.  In their lobby they had a window into a clean room that showed a silicone ingot being pulled from a crucible.

    Employees could buy Hoffman products at a discount — I bought a solar powered radio/record player.
    ronnSolijony0cornchiplolliverpalomine
  • Reply 20 of 37
    trumptmantrumptman Posts: 16,448member
    Regardless of what you think about the tariff, you can't help but note the irony of the contradicting arguments being made by the same people on the left.

    First of all a tariff is a tax. It is a tax on an import. Point blank no way around it. Like all taxes, it changes the price of that item.

    So basically when you talk about anyone on the left about taxes the argument is that it will just be passed along and be baked in and become part of doing business and it won't change any decisions or alter any economic outcomes. That is always the reasoning unless of course you talk about tariffs or sin taxes in which case all economic activity will clearly lower or stop if that is the desire.

    So tax cigarettes, soda or solar panels and of course people will buy fewer of those and it will have an economic impact.

    Tax income, investments, savings and of course sales tax....well that won't alter anything. People will just do what they have to do and life will be the same.

    Does anyone not notice the irony here?

    Trump just CUT the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%. We are told this is just blowing a hole in the budget and no corporation is really going to make any decision different than they would have before. The rich will just get richer and the the poor will be unable to be helped by the government and corporations will keep more of their money and everyone else will suffer.

    Take that 35% rate and make it a 30% tariff and suddenly everyone seems to understand......wait prices will go up. People will make different decisions based on those prices. They may even forgo the economic activity all together or may shift it to different countries where there isn't a 30% tariff raising prices. The increases in price will TRICKLE DOWN and put all sorts of installers, support techs and small businesses out of work or at a minimum it will harm them.

    I just can't understand the blind spot here. The reasoning is the same in both cases. If you think the Trump tariffs are wrong because they will distort the market, cause all manner of unintended and harmful consequences and won't actually alter any outcomes then....welcome to fiscal conservativism because if you apply this to the rest of our economy now with your opened eyes then you finally get it.
    georgie01racerhomie3spacekidchaickaboltsfan17patchythepirateJWSCrwx9901brucemccornchip
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