by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Cheap imported solar cells have fueled an alternative-energy boom in the U.S., making solar cost-competitive with coal and natural gas in some states, and persuading over one million American homeowners to generate their own power. Now President Donald Trump is considering tariffs or other trade sanctions that could slow the flow of foreign cells and protect the handful of remaining U.S. manufacturers.
But the help could come at the expense of the largest segment of the U.S. solar industry—companies that sell and install solar panels—by pushing prices higher. Trump’s decision also could coincide with a falloff in solar demand, prompting a worse-than-expected downturn.
Next year “will likely be the first year in decades when the solar industry has not grown,” says Shawn Kravetz, the president of hedge fund Esplanade Capital and a longtime solar investor. “That’s a splash of cold water for a growth industry.” Although he’s “very bullish” on the industry’s long-term growth, he’s nervous about the next year or two.
Trump hasn’t paid much attention to solar power. His protectionist rhetoric tends to focus on traditional hard-hat industries like steel and automobiles. But a trade case brought by two U.S. manufacturers is about to fall into his lap, demanding a decision by January at the latest.