BEND, OR -- In a move purported to defend American workers and industry, President Donald Trump imposed a 30% tariff on imported solar panels last month, but regular consumers are unsure what that means for them if they're looking to upgrade to green energy.
Casey Miller, Vice President of Chint Power Systems America, says CPS manufactures solar inverters for the commercial market, and only a small part of the solar industry is affected by President Trump's tariff on solar panels. "The solar tariff is imposed on imported solar cells and the solar PV panels that have those cells. And, simply put, that'll just raise the prices. A 30% increase in the panels, which make up a majority of the cost of a solar project, will only have a small effect on residential-sized projects."
Miller doesn't believe the tariff will bring manufacturing jobs back to America, due to the high level of automation in solar panel production, but Trump's tariff also included imported washing machines, especially aimed at LG and Samsung, which, according to the Washington Post, have announced plans to build manufacturing plants in Tennessee and South Carolina, respectively.
But Miller says CPS is attempting to navigate the confusion in the industry that's due to the combination of President Trump's tariff and his corporate tax cut. "Tariffs are penalties. Penalties don't necessarily spur economic activity, they usually depress economic activity, and that's what we believe will happen in the solar industry. The market will shrink because costs will go up and that will hurt jobs. Tax cuts, on the other hand, are an incentive that can drive investment, and actually, I do think there will be some positive impact of that in the solar industry."
Miller says the tariff is on the cells of the solar panels, so projects like Saturn Power, the 85-acre solar farm located north of Bend on Highway 97
, may end up being one of only a few in Central Oregon, because, he says, natural energy projects have to pencil out. "The larger projects are financed on smaller margins, meaning the economic costs of the project are really sensitive because they're selling power to the utilities at a really low rate. The estimates are that that market could be impacted 10 to 20% in the U.S. because of the tariff."
Solar homeowners, at the retail rate, sell their power back at around $0.10/kilowatt hour while energy farms, at the wholesale rate, sell theirs at approximately $0.035/kilowatt hour. As far as solar energy is concerned, Miller says several countries in Europe have a corner on the market due to their long-term production and advanced automation, which means solar manufacturing jobs aren't likely to come to America.