Sustainability Column: The Not-So-Sunny Side

Last week the Trump administration made a poor decision and hiked up tariffs on solar technology/pieces. This tariff on solar panels is set at 30 percent for the next four years, decreasing by five percent each year (NY Times). This imposed tariff is going to have adverse impacts on the solar industry in the United States, as well as on the sustainability movement as a whole, yet it was put in place to “help” the U.S. Solar Industry. By imposing these massive tariffs, it is going to make the transition from dirty energy sources, like oil, to cleaner sources even harder, which I’m sure is part of our climate change-denying president’s long term scheme.

The point of this tariff, according to the Trump administration, is to increase solar panel production in the U.S. and help U.S.-based manufacturers. However, this is unlikely to happen. Currently almost 80 percent of solar panels used in the United States are imported from Asia. With these imposed tariffs, imports of solar panels will decrease substantially and it is unlikely to increase solar panel manufacturing stateside in return. It is simple, entry-level economics: with a decrease in quantity of available photovoltaic cells, the price of available panels will increase drastically. Unless there is a massive movement to increase American manufacturing, the increased price will be around until the tariff is lifted or until imports are cheaper than U.S.-based products even with the tariffs.

The real issue with this tax on solar panels is that the majority of  U.S. solar jobs are in the installation and sales of solar panels, not around manufacturing. So, even though the tariff was put in place to help U.S. industry, it is going to harm everyone in the field that does not manufacture the panels. If prices of solar panels skyrocket because the U.S. is now dependent on American manufactured panels, then the industry as a whole is going to tank. Around 374,000 people hold jobs in the solar industry and it is estimated that these tariffs will cause around 23,000 people to lose their jobs (Department of Energy; Popular Science). All of the people that play important roles in this industry, that don’t directly make the panels, will suffer dramatically from this tariff.

This will cause lasting impacts on the economy. With little ability to keep growth in the renewable sector, the switch to renewables as a whole will slow. We will fall remarkably behind all other nations committed to fighting change. As a world power we will be showing our disregard, on a global scale, for protecting others against climate change. The tariffs will cause the U.S. based industry to suffer and these tariffs further strengthen the message that the United States does not care about protecting the Earth. All the U.S. cares about is stripping the Earth of finite natural resources.

With the impacts of climate change being felt already, and the future consequences looming, we should be doing everything in our power to increase renewable energy production. This tax on solar does not help the average American and is yet another example of Trump’s lack of concern for the environment. 

Contact Delaney Pals at [email protected].