Colorado solar industry says federal investment lowers tariff threat

Inflation Reduction Act will boost U.S. makers of solar panels, easing worries that Commerce Department tariffs will choke off building stock

Michael Booth
The Colorado Sun
Recently-installed solar panels line the roof of the Marv Kay Stadium Dec. 8, 2022, at the Colorado School of Mines campus in Golden. The campus now runs enough solar panels to produce at least 1.5 megawatts of the 8 peak megawatts needed to run the engineering school for its 7,000 students. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Colorado’s solar industry leaders say a U.S. Commerce Department threat of tariffs on some imported panels should not further disrupt their expanding market, and they add that new federal subsidies for American panel makers will ease shortages down the road. 

The Commerce Department’s finding early in December that a few Southeast Asian panel makers are dumping subsidized Chinese parts here is on hold for now, and the preliminary ruling will not further cut into panel supplies, officials from Namaste Solar, SunShare and a trade association said. In the spring, Colorado solar installers said worldwide shipping of panels had virtually ceased as Commerce officials threatened massive tariffs on panels in transit, and even retroactively on delivered panels. Colorado solar companies delayed projects and prepared for mass layoffs. 

But the White House over the summer put any new tariffs on hold until 2024 after an outcry from U.S. solar installers, who said new import restrictions would harm the transition to clean energy. Meanwhile, Colorado solar leaders say, new subsidies for U.S. manufacturing plants from the Inflation Reduction Act will make them price competitive with Asian imports and bolster overall supplies.

Cooler heads prevailed after the early 2022 tariff scare, and import challenges will not “stop the transition to renewable energy in the United States,” said David Amster-Olszewski, founder of community solar garden developer SunShare. “I think it’s just complication. What you want is companies like ours not spending time working on all of these nuances of import-export trade issues.” 

The Commerce Department warned that four Southeast Asian companies appeared to be largely reselling Chinese-made panels in order to avoid heavy tariffs on Chinese imports. But the assessment won’t be final until May 2023, and is negated anyway by the Biden Administration’s imposition of a ban on new tariffs into 2024, Amster-Olszewski said.

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The new Holy Cross Energy/Ameresco solar array at the CMC Spring Valley campus near Glenwood Springs.
John Stroud/Post Independent

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