The Biden administration announced a set of executive actions to boost the domestic deployment of solar power on Monday morning.
The White House announced it is taking steps under the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of clean energy technologies such as solar panels and their components, as well as directing the federal government to develop plans to buy domestically produced solar products. It is also delaying for two years any imposition of tariffs on solar panels from four countries in Southeast Asia that supply the vast majority of photovoltaic cells to the United States.
“Just on the strength of the president’s vision, the clarity of his vision, and this nation’s commitment to a clean energy future, we’ve seen the private investment and private commitment to growing domestic solar manufacturing capacity triple — or be on pace to triple — by 2024,” said a senior administration official on a Monday morning press call. “But we know that’s not enough, and that’s why the president is taking bold action today.”
The overarching purpose of these moves is to build up a domestic manufacturing supply chain for solar panels without impeding the booming business of installing solar panels. Increasing U.S. installation of solar power is a key element of the president’s plan to combat climate change, but an ongoing Commerce Department investigation has been threatening to block solar deployment, as it could result in heavy tariffs being applied to solar panels and their parts imported from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The solar installation industry has issued dire predictions about the effect these tariffs would have on U.S. jobs, and Biden’s move has the industry breathing a sigh of relief.
Some American solar panel manufacturers have complained that they are undercut on price by imports from those countries — which they say are actually produced by Chinese companies benefiting from Chinese government subsidies that violate trade agreements. The combination of a two-year grace period for U.S. solar installers to keep importing those products while simultaneously building up the domestic solar manufacturing industry is meant to bolster the U.S. industrial sector and U.S. energy security, so that the American solar industry can keep up with growing demand without relying on products from an adversarial nation.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) immediately issued a statement praising the measures on Monday.
“We applaud President Biden’s thoughtful approach to addressing the current crisis of the paralyzed solar supply chain,” said SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “The president is providing improved business certainty today while harnessing the power of the Defense Production Act for tomorrow. Today’s actions protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry and foster a robust solar manufacturing base here at home.”
The administration also garnered praise from environmental activists, who had been fretting that the impending tariffs would stop the ongoing solar expansion, though some also argued that the ambitious and aggressive use of executive authority should not be limited to just one clean energy industry. (The wind energy industry, which Biden also seeks to boost, is currently fearing a proposal in Congress that could make it more difficult to build offshore wind farms.)
“Today’s executive action by the Biden administration to help unlock the potential of clean energy is what we need more of to address the climate crisis, create a better future for our communities, support domestic manufacturers, and aid our allies abroad by weakening the fossil-fueled war in Ukraine,” said Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign director at Greenpeace USA. “This announcement demonstrates President Biden’s ability to ramp up the transition to renewable energy. Now he needs to go even further by invoking the Defense Production Act across all clean energy sectors, declaring a climate emergency, and addressing the root of the climate crisis by beginning an immediate and equitable phaseout of domestic fossil fuel production.”
Solar power is central to Biden's plan to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change by 50% by 2030 and to reach zero net emissions by 2050. The administration wants solar to go from just 4% of U.S. electricity generation currently to nearly half of the U.S. electricity portfolio by 2050. To get there, it would have to double by 2025 the rate at which solar is being installed and double it again by 2030.
While the executive actions announced Monday may help with solar deployment, the large subsidies for rooftop solar purchases in Biden’s proposed budget reconciliation package remain stuck in the Senate due to opposition from Republicans and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Auxin Solar, the San Jose, Calif.-based solar manufacturer that filed the complaint with the Commerce Department that raised the specter of new tariffs on imported solar panels, was sharply critical of the administration's delay in any potential tariffs.
"President Biden is significantly interfering in Commerce’s quasi-judicial process," Auxin Solar CEO Mamun Rashid said in a statement shared with Yahoo News. "By taking this unprecedented — and potentially illegal — action, he has opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of U.S. trade law. Since filing this case, Auxin has been well under way to scaling up. If the President will follow through on his stated intent to support the U.S. domestic industry — including grants to scale and produce upstream inputs like cells and wafers — Auxin is ready, willing, and able to meet that challenge."