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The Silver Lining of Solar Panel Tariffs

Design Experts Weigh in on the President’s Solar Panel Tariffs

03/16/2018 By Kadie Yale

In January 2018, President Donald Trump announced he signed a tariff on the import of specific types of solar cells and modules. The tariff increases the cost of importation by 30 percent and is considered a blow to the renewable energy industry.

A War on Solar Power

In an exclusive interview with interiors+sources, Alexandra Hobson, director of external communications with the Solar Energy Industries Association, said, “The tariffs that went into effect [in February] are bad for a number of reasons. They artificially inflate the price of solar energy, making it tougher to compete on cost. This will likely result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments and the loss of tens of thousands of American jobs.”

While this will slow the adoption of solar energy and negatively impact the training and employment within the industry—which saw growth over the last few years—George Bandy Jr., vice president of sustainability at the Mohawk Group, sees this decision delivering both positive and negative outcomes.

“[The tariffs] cause some turmoil with the technology that I think is only improving in the market to be able to reduce our footprint around energy and manufacturing. To a certain extent I’m kind of concerned because I think sometimes you open that door and it goes in different directions, and [the tariffs] have an impact on a lot of people and a lot of communities. On that same token, it does stimulate innovation as well and allows us to understand the value of solar.”

The Long Haul of Renewable Energy

He continued, “I think if someone made a commitment to utilize renewable energy, they’ll stay the course on renewable energy because they’ve built that into the structure of how they want to see their organization in the future.”

However, he conceded that if the tariffs make it significantly harder to invest in solar energy, the design industry will see a separation between those who have made sustainability part of their companies’ foundations and those who have not.

For those who planned to install solar panels in the next year or two, there is hope: Hobson said that after the petition for the tariffs was filed in early 2017, “some solar companies hedged against a negative decision by putting preparations in place to serve their customers well into 2018 and beyond. Others are working out how to manage the increased cost of imports.”

Both Bandy and Hobson emphasized that the tariffs will only affect the importation of specific solar cells and modules, so those with solar energy already installed should not see an impact.

Therefore, while the tariffs are cause for concern because they have the ability to slow an energy sector that has seen momentous growth and innovation in the last several years, those in the design industry with solar power or who planned on implementing a renewable energy program shouldn’t be deterred.

In fact, Bandy pointed out that political legislation tends to be short-lived and can flip-flop from year to year and presidency to presidency. The impact of renewable energy is far longer.

“I think that one of the things we don’t really do is we don’t look at our impact globally when we make decisions,” he concluded. “I think that’s more of a concern for me: What are the impacts on Mother Nature as a result of making these decisions?”