Biden takes steps to ease trade turmoil threatening his solar power ambitions

The White House announced on Monday that Biden will facilitate a 24-month “bridge” for certain solar imports, allowing developers to source solar modules and cells from the four countries – Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam – which together account for around 80% of panel imports to the United States

Biden will also authorize the Department of Energy to use the DPA to rapidly expand U.S. manufacturing of solar panel parts, such as photovoltaic modules that turn sunlight into electricity, as well as building insulation, heat pumps heat, equipment for making and using clean electricity generated fuels and power grid infrastructure such as transformers.

“Together, these actions will boost domestic manufacturing,” a senior administration official said Monday in a call with reporters. “It will put some wind in the sails of construction projects across the country that employ people who earn good wages.”

Just the opening of the investigation at the end of March and the threat of possible retroactive tariffs caused large-scale project cancellations and delays. The White House has come under pressure from Democrats and Republicans to take action to stem the fallout from the probe, which trade officials have described as a process that leaves little room for Biden or the US Secretary of State. trade Gina Raimondo to weigh in directly.

The administration said Monday that the actions would not interfere with Commerce’s ongoing investigation. “This administration has been determined to ensure that the enforcement processes for the implementation of our trade laws are conducted in accordance with those laws with integrity, appreciating the quasi-judicial nature of the specific investigation,” said the responsible for administration.

But the new actions have already drawn criticism from the small California-based solar maker that filed the original complaint that the imports circumvented existing duties.

“President Biden is significantly interfering in the quasi-judicial Commerce process,” said Auxin Solar CEO Mamun Rashid. “By taking this unprecedented – and potentially illegal – step, he opened the door to special interests funded by China to thwart the fair application of US trade law.

The administration official countered that the president was using emergency authority under existing trade laws while the investigation continues and that the action was crafted in consultation with a broad interagency legal team, including the Ministry of Justice.

Faced with a wave of public pressure on the issue, the White House last month met with several Democratic senators who oppose the Commerce Department’s investigation, and officials have pledged act soon to alleviate uncertainty for the solar industry.

Biden’s Monday announcements are a “much-needed reprieve from this overwhelming investigation into the industry,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which opposed the inquiry.

“The President is delivering greater commercial certainty today while harnessing the power of the Defense Production Act for tomorrow,” she said in a statement. “Today’s actions protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry, and foster a strong solar manufacturing base here at home.”

Roselund pointed out that Monday’s actions will have significant impacts on the market, with prices for solar equipment expected to fall almost immediately and shipments to resume.

“It could save a lot of solar projects that were in danger of being canceled and could [speed] the deadlines of others who have been delayed,” he said. “So that could lead to a lot more solar being installed this year and next year.”

Additionally, the White House announced the development of Master Supply Agreements for domestically manufactured solar systems to increase the speed and efficiency with which domestic clean electricity providers can sell their products. to the US government and the so-called super preference status to enforce national content standards. for the federal procurement of solar systems.

Opponents of the trade inquiry – including several state governors, more than 80 House Democrats and more than 20 senators — called on Commerce to quickly issue a preliminary ruling on the investigation before the late August deadline. The final ruling in the proceedings could ultimately stretch into next year and could result in retroactive tariffs, the potential of which has triggered project cancellations and job losses in the United States.

Nevada Senator Jacky Rosenwho led the Senate letter opposing the investigation, applauded the White House’s “concrete action” on the issue on Monday.

“The risk of additional tariffs on imported solar panels would have been devastating to America’s solar projects, the hundreds of thousands of jobs they support, and our country’s clean energy and climate goals,” said Rosen in a statement. “The administration’s announcement is a positive step that will save American solar jobs and invest in our own domestic solar manufacturing capabilities for the long term.”

The commercial investigation is carried out by career personnel, and Raimondo has kept under pressure that her hands are tied for the investigation. Instead, she said the department will move forward as quickly as the law allows.

Meanwhile, proponents of the inquiry have warned against political influence that could undermine trade enforcement proceedings.

Late last month, six Democrats pressed the administration to pursue the trade probe, and they complained that “troublesome” lobbying against the probe had reached “mass hysteria.” The United Steelworkers also expressed concern that solar proponents were misrepresenting how the inquiry process works.

On Monday, Nick Iacovella, senior vice president of the pro-manufacturing group Coalition for a Prosperous America, said the White House did not consult with US solar makers ahead of the announcements.

“You can’t say you want to boost domestic production and then allow the Chinese to continue dumping, which is a direct threat and something against increasing domestic production,” he added.

The White House framed the announcements on Monday as an attempt to boost U.S. solar manufacturing at a time when efforts on the Hill to pass tax credits, including incentives targeting U.S. solar manufacturing, remain on point. dead. Democrats are expected to reinvigorate their efforts to pass a party-line measure that would offer hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy credits and incentives.

“Now that we have a reprieve from the destructive effects of the trade investigation, we look forward to working with the administration and our allies in Congress to ensure the enactment of policies that strengthen our national supply chain, such as the clean energy tax package currently under negotiation that provides tax credits for advanced manufacturing and long-term tax incentives for renewable energy,” said Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO from the American Council on Renewable Energy.

First Solar, a U.S. solar panel maker, reiterated in its own statement that the White House had not consulted U.S. solar makers and said the action would benefit China’s state-subsidized solar industry.

“Such a proclamation directly undermines US solar manufacturing by giving unrestricted access to state-subsidized Chinese solar companies for the next two years. It sends the message that corporations can circumvent US laws and that the US government will let them off the hook as long as they are backed by deep-pocketed political pressure campaigns led by lobbyists,” the vice president said. of First Solar’s global policy, Samantha Sloan. said.

Sloan added that the use of the CCA “is an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money and falls far short of sustainable solar industrial policy,” like the solar tax credits the administration has so far failed. ‘now failed to provide.

Monday’s actions are not the first time the president has attempted to resolve tensions between his clean energy and domestic manufacturing goals. The administration has already considered ban imports of polysilicon, a key material for solar panels, from China’s Xinjiang region over allegations of forced labor, and whether to extend Trump-era tariffs on Chinese shipments by four years.