A majority of registered voters polled by Morning Consult for CPA said they want a domestic solar industry, not one reliant almost fully on imported solar cells and panels from China.
Sadly, if you’ve ever driven by a house with a rooftop covered in solar panels, they were probably made by Trina Solar or some other Chinese manufacturer.
If you ever drove by a massive utility power plant with double-sided solar panels gleaming in the sun, it is near 100% certain that every solar cell in those solar modules, and even the solar panels themselves, were imported from Asia.
On February 7, President Biden will decide whether to go with the November 24th decision of the International Trade Commission to continue the Section 201 solar safeguard tariffs for another four years or let them expire. Importers want them to expire. This is usually sold as being beneficial for Biden’s climate policies.
But in the weeks ahead, Biden and his climate czar, John Kerry, an advocate for more Chinese imports, will be choosing between American-made solar electricity, or Chinese-made. American voters have decided they want their solar electricity to be sourced from materials made here.
According to the poll, conducted between December 17 – 19, 2021:
- 90% of voters think the U.S. should manufacturer renewable energy domestically
- 70% say the U.S. should not be dependent on China and Chinese-controlled factories in Southeast Asia for solar imports
- Forced labor and coal use in Chinese solar supply chains, and U.S. taxpayer dollars funding purchases of Chinese solar equipment are top concerns among voters
Some 83% of registered voters think Congress should prohibit taxpayer dollars from going toward the purchase of solar panels with materials made from forced labor in Xinjiang China. Xinjiang province is where most of the polysilicon used to making solar wafers is produced. That item is banned by Customs and Border Protection from entering the U.S. Another 71% said they support the Biden administration expanding the Buy American Act to support U.S. domestic solar manufacturers.
Three times as many voters, and 54% of Democrats, said that long-term solar manufacturing jobs are most valuable to the U.S. economy in contrast to just 16% of respondents who want to prioritize solar installation jobs.
Last week, the USTR held a five-hour hearing among stakeholders in the solar industry that ranged from local producers like Q Cells, to solar installation firms and foreign embassies in Vietnam, Canada, and Mexico, all asking for tariff exemptions.
Vietnam is fast becoming a stronghold for Chinese multinational solar manufacturers. China’s offshoring to southeast Asia has turned Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia into key solar supply chains for the U.S.
The Department of Commerce recently shelved a complaint by an undisclosed group of domestic solar manufacturers who argued that Chinese companies were avoiding anti-dumping duties imposed on them in 2018.
During the USTR hearing, importers said that if Biden keeps the safeguard tariffs, he will fail to reach his climate mitigation goals – primarily hitting the 2035 target to make solar the leading source of electricity here.
Matt Card, President of Suniva, said, “With a dependence predominantly on China, you will have one of the dirtiest solar supply chains in the world.”
Nearly every utility-scale solar project in the U.S. is China-made. That means the electricity a solar utility company is selling into the grid is powered fully by Asian-made (mostly Chinese) solar panels.
Kerry and Biden could butt heads on this issue in February.
But should the President side with his climate advisor instead of his ITC team, it would set the table for those opposed to the President to paint him as too willing to placate China. No one in their right mind believes climate change will ruin the planet in four years when the safeguard is in place. The safeguard extension gives American companies a chance to increasingly ramp up their production of both solar cells, solar panels, and the larger two-sided solar panels required by electric power producers. If not, China owns the market.
Voters’ top concerns about Chinese-made solar panels include the use of forced labor (80%), U.S. taxpayer dollars being used to purchase Chinese equipment (78%), and China’s utilization of coal-fired power plants in its solar manufacturing supply chain (76%). Three-quarters of polled voters (76%) said that they were concerned about the overall impact on climate change and carbon emissions as a consequence of the U.S. solar industry’s reliance on imported solar panels.
“If we are not in a position with the proper policies in place to get factories online…which takes years…if you are not doing that now, then you essentially give up control of your solar energy grid,” Mamun Rashid, CEO of Auxin Solar, told the USTR’s Trade Policy Staff Committee on January 4.
Only around 20% of solar panels in the U.S. are made here. Inside those solar panels sit solar cells that make up the panels and that market is overwhelmingly Asian and dominated by Chinese products or products made by Chinese companies elsewhere in Asia. Most of the solar supply chain is centered around China, making solar energy a potential national security risk for the U.S. as well.