- Some 85 U.S. House representatives wrote President Joe Biden on Tuesday asking him to expedite the anti-circumvention investigation into solar exports from Southeast Asia that has led to a number of delays and cancellations in U.S. projects.
- The representatives requested the Department of Commerce take "steps to expeditiously reach a preliminary determination as soon as duly possible" while taking into account the larger impact on clean energy sector jobs and the Biden administration's climate goals.
- A bipartisan group of senators had written to the White House in April to similarly ask for a faster process, but Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo told the Senate Committee on Appropriations last week that she cannot interfere and the probe is under a process prescribed by law.
The letter asked for a faster preliminary decision on the Commerce trade investigation that was opened in March, and prompted by a request from Auxin Solar, a small domestic panel producer. According to the timeline set by the agency, a preliminary decision could be ready in August, with a final decision as soon as January, which could lead to additional tariffs on solar imports from Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam that use Chinese-made cells and components.
Auxin Solar's petition claimed the cheaper Southeast Asian products stymied the development of solar manufacturing in the United States.
However, "the present anti-circumvention inquiry threatens to completely derail the progress we have made" in decarbonization, according to the letter from the representatives.
Solar experts have critiqued the petition and previous tariffs on solar panels as a policy that has not built out a commensurate solar manufacturing presence in the United States.
"We’re trying to start building more of a domestic supply chain and create more manufacturing skilled jobs, and this is just throwing a wrench in that too. If you have .. a jerky public policy, it doesn’t help," said Susan Nickey, chief client officer and executive vice-president at climate solutions investment company Hannon Armstrong.
The Biden administration has been responding to the solar industry's calls for action on the investigation. Energy Sec. Jennifer Granholm said she was "extremely troubled" by industry analysis indicating that solar deployment for 2022 will be halved as a result of the investigation.
"I completely understand the uncertainty around trade regulations that’s interfering, and that’s a gentle word, with the industry’s ability to scale up," Granholm said Wednesday in a presentation to the CLEANPOWER 2022 conference.
Other panelists and experts at CLEANPOWER 2022 similarly echoed concerns that the investigation was less effective than establishing long-term policy to incentivize the development of a domestic solar supply chain.
Solar projects "already have economic headwinds from inflation and higher interest rates," according to Armstrong.
"We’re in a tight labor market, so the risk of losing the skilled labor force you have … has a lot of trickle-down effects" and negative economic impacts, Nickey said.