Biden authorized the Energy Department to use the DPA to speed up the local manufacturing of solar panel components, energy-efficient heat pumps, building insulation, electrical transformers needed for the power grid and equipment such as electrolyzers and fuel cells. The White House also announced that it will leverage the strength of the federal government’s clean energy portfolio, using federal purchases to ramp up solar manufacturing in the United States.
The trade tariff investigation is not over whether four Southeast Asian countries supply about 80% of US solar panels and parts – Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam – using components from China that should be subject to US tariffs.
While a senior administration official stressed that the White House does not interfere in the quasi-judicial process of trade, they also defended the new two-year moratorium on tariffs.
“This is a process by which we enhance the integrity” of the trade investigation, the official said. “It will continue on its course and the Commerce Department will continue to progress in a manner consistent with its internal regulations and processes.”
“What we are seeing is the confluence of the effects of climate change – droughts in the West, for example, reducing the production of our hydropower resources,” the official said, adding that it is necessary to deploy more clean energy such as solar to offset this lost electricity generation.
Lisa Wang, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Enforcement and Compliance, said in a statement that the trade investigation will continue “without interruption,” and that “whatever conclusion the trade reaches when the investigation ends, it will apply once this short-term emergency period is over.”
“According to the president’s announcement, no solar cells or modules imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will be subject to new anti-dumping or countervailing duties during the emergency period,” Wang added.
Some US solar companies have praised Biden’s decision and others have criticized it.
“President Biden’s critical leadership enables companies like mine to move forward with stalled projects and bring solar workers back to our worksites,” said George Hirschman, CEO of utility-scale installation company SOLV Energy. But Hirschman stressed that continuing the commercial investigation would remain with the industry and urged trade officials to end the case soon.
Other companies not affected by the commercial investigation, such as US-based solar maker First Solar, said the decision was a blow to US manufacturing of solar panels.
“Today’s announcement directly undermines US solar manufacturing by giving unrestricted access to Chinese state-backed solar companies over the next two years,” said Samantha Sloan, Vice President of Policy, First Solar.
Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers from states where solar is a big employer have criticized the administration for conducting the investigation. Last month, Monday. Jackie Rosen of Nevada questioned Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about the investigation and spoke with colleagues to complain about job losses in her state due to the tariff threat. He was also joined by Rosen and other Republican Democrats, including the North Carolina senator. Thom Tillis expressed their concerns about the tariff threat with retroactive effect.
Rosen, in a statement, called Biden’s announcement “a positive step that will save American solar jobs.”
“The risk of additional tariffs on imported solar panels would have been devastating to American solar projects, the hundreds of thousands of jobs they support, and our country’s clean energy and climate goals,” Rosen said.
This story and its titles have been updated with additional reporting.