But let’s keep our eyes on the prize here. It’s also important to advance domestic manufacturing capacity for solar panels.
Last week, E&E News reported that House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee plan to bring Biden administration officials in to explain their decision to temporarily waive tariffs on heavily subsidized Chinese solar panel products that are being imported here through a number of countries in southeast Asia.
They’re even considering using an obscure “legislative tool,” established during the heady days of the Newt Gingrich speakership, that would revoke the decision. Because that’s the kinda thing you get with divided government! Writes E&E:
The push to nix the Biden solar rule is one plank in the Republican campaign to confront China. In the first two weeks of the 118th Congress, House Republicans have already set up a select committee on U.S. competition with China and overwhelmingly passed a bill to prevent Strategic Petroleum Reserve sales to the world’s most populous nation.
This is an interesting tactic but, if I’m being honest, it will be far more interesting to hear discussion from the administration principals involved about how they arrived at this solar decision. As we wrote in December, the move to postpone tariffs was basically the White House splitting the baby: Everybody got something and nobody got everything they wanted.
The Biden administration’s decision to pause tariffs meant that the importers already knew they would avoid penalty regardless of what a Commerce Department decision into the matter found. That obviously angered domestic manufacturers. But – even though penalty phase was short-circuited – the investigation was allowed to play out against the wishes of solar installers, and they still lost after calling the whole thing meritless. And those tariffs will kick in eventually.
In the meantime, Congress managed to pass an enormous clean energy bill – the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – that will make it significantly cheaper to buy American-made solar panels, thereby significantly boosting the viability of solar manufacturing in the United States. That’s a huge deal, and is why Qcells, a South Korean company that’s one of only a few manufacturers of size operating in the United States, announced a major buildout of production capacity at its facilities in Georgia.
So the IRA is inducing more domestic solar manufacturing! But it passed well after the decision was made to delay the tariffs, and its passage was no sure thing! So suffice to say: These could turn into revealing hearings that could shed light on how the Biden administration made a call that balanced the president’s ambitious goals to build out U.S. clean energy use and a legitimate trade enforcement effort.
At any rate, we hope the House Republicans behind these hearings use them to move toward constructive solutions to improve domestic clean energy manufacturing capacity. That would mean, for example, fully implementing the Build America, Buy America Act (BABA), which greatly expands the coverage of domestic procurement rules for federally funded infrastructure projects while closing big loopholes that have been picked in them over the years. BABA, which applies to solar manufacturing, was signed into law with the major infrastructure package passed in 2021. Now it needs to be enacted so domestic manufacturers and workers benefit from it, and important industries in which we have little domestic manufacturing capacity – like solar – have a reliable federal procurement market in which to establish themselves.