America’s biggest solar farm builder has accused Joe Biden of doing more harm to the sector than the Trump administration with a “dysfunctional” climate policy.
George Hershman, chief executive of Solv Energy, said a probe launched by the US commerce department this week into whether solar groups are dodging import tariffs threatened to put the breaks on new projects and derail the president’s climate agenda.
“The Biden administration, and particularly this commerce [department’s] decision, has done more damage to renewables than the previous administration,” said Hershman, whose company is the top installer of large, or “utility-scale”, solar projects in the US
“At least we knew where that administration [Trump] stood. This administration every day says how much they are in support of renewables but then actively make decisions in opposition.”
His comments come after the Department of Commerce on Tuesday agreed to investigate whether solar parts manufacturers were circumventing tariffs on Chinese imports by shifting the final stages of the manufacturing process to Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Analysts estimate about three-quarters of US solar product imports come from these four countries. The probe was requested by a domestic panel maker, California-based Auxin Solar, which argued that Chinese suppliers were guilty of “pervasive backdoor dumping” that was hurting American manufacturers.
If the investigation finds the practices amount to circumvention, decade-old tariffs on Chinese imports would be extended to these countries, increasing costs by between 50 and 250 per cent. A final decision is expected early next year but the tariffs would apply retroactively from April. Solar groups said the launch of the probe alone had “chilled” the market, with manufacturers reluctant to ship parts that might later be hit by tariffs.
The case highlights a tension between the Biden administration’s priorities on climate and industry. On one hand the White House wants to drive a rapid build out of clean energy infrastructure, but on the other wants to protect domestic manufacturing and employment.
“It’s a bit dysfunctional, it’s a bit schizophrenic,” said Hershman.
His comments echo those of offshore wind developers, who have voiced concern that forcing the industry to “Buy American” before a domestic supply chain is fully developed will stop it in its tracks.
Biden campaigned on an ambitious climate agenda, but the legislation that would have implemented the bulk of it failed to pass muster in Congress. The bill included unprecedented tax incentives for renewable developers and manufacturers.
“We will build US manufacturing if we pass this bill, no question. But we’re not going to be pushing major capacity out for two years,” said Hershman. “Right now we need to use the global supply chain that’s in place and then begin the transition to a US supply chain.”
Auxin dismissed this, however, arguing US a ramp-up of domestic parts supply was feasible.
“The same companies that are saying that there is not sufficient domestic supply are not even attempting to purchase from domestic sources,” said Mamun Rashid, Auxin chief executive.
“We have available capacity and with sufficient purchase orders, we can quickly scale up. But we need a fair price that allows us to cover our costs and pay our employees a fair wage.”