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U.S. solar power backers look at cost-cutting steps

A non-profit group supporting a shift toward renewables said there are commitments to find ways to offset the impact of Trump's duty on imported solar products.

By Daniel J. Graeber
U.S. solar power backers look at cost-cutting steps
Participants at a Colorado workshop said there could be ways to cut costs on solar panels enough to offset the impact of a tariff imposed by President Trump this week. File photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI. | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Participants at a solar power workshop in Colorado said they were committed to cut costs enough to offset the impact of the Trump administration's new tariff.

President Donald Trump signed off this week on measures imposing a 30 percent duty on imported solar products following review and recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Commission. The ITC took up the case amid complaints from Suniva, a Chinese-owned company with U.S. manufacturing centers, and SolarWorld, whose parent is in Germany, that cheap solar components from Asia made the U.S. sector less competitive.

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A workshop hosted by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit group advocating for a shift away from fossil fuels, brought commitments to cut the cost for solar components in a way that offsets the industry impact of the 30 percent tariff.

Participants, which ranged from representatives from energy company BHP Billiton to the Sierra Club, identified the potential to create modular, pre-engineered and pre-assembled solar products in a way that would reduce costs enough to keep the U.S. solar sector competitive.

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"By taking a whole-systems approach that leverages standardization to enable pre-assembly and pre-engineering, the roadmap to delivering a low-cost, easy-to-understand product offering is clear," Jules Kortenhorst, the CEO of the institute, said in a statement.

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The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group representing the interests of the solar power industry in the United States, said only a small segment of the U.S. solar sector was actually geared toward making panels. The rest were working in sales or installation.

SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said the tariffs "will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand."

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Hopper led the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in the Obama administration. A benchmark for solar competitiveness against other forms of energy outlined in the SunShot Initiative, a policy left over from President Barack Obama, was achieved three years ahead of schedule.

President Trump, in signing off on the duty, said the solar power sector was a "potentially great industry" that could create "a lot of jobs." U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., countered that the tariffs would result in the loss of about 23,000 jobs in 2018 alone. California is home to about a third of all solar jobs.

The European Union in 2013 imposed a duty of 67.9 percent on Chinese solar panel exporters who didn't cooperate with an investigation into allegations the panels were sold to European countries at below market cost.

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