Joe Biden’s move to boost solar panel production draws mixed reviews from industry

President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on Monday to spur domestic production of clean energy technology and also ordered a two-year tariff exemption on solar panels imported from Southeast Asian countries, two measures that received mixed reviews from industry leaders.

The moves will “rapidly expand” the production of solar panel parts, heat pumps, building insulation and power grid infrastructure such as transformers, the White House said in a statement.

Mr. Biden also will waive for the two years tariffs on solar panels imported from four Southeast Asian countries, a move to nudge Americans further toward green alternatives amid rising fossil-fuel prices.

“It’s going to put wind in the sails of construction projects all over the country, employing people making a good wage while cutting costs for families,” a senior administration official told reporters.

The tariff announcement comes after a months-long investigation by the Biden administration into whether imports of solar panels from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are circumventing tariffs on goods made in China.

Those four countries account for 80% of America’s solar-panel imports.

SEE ALSO: Biden will trigger DPA, waive tariffs for two years on solar panels to boost productions

As a result of the Commerce Department probe, which began in March, hundreds of massive solar projects in the U.S. have been delayed or scuttled, resulting in layoffs across the U.S.

Solar industry lobbying groups had pushed Mr. Biden to waive the tariffs, fearing the investigation could lead to retroactive tariffs of up to 250%.  

Tariffs could still be levied on the panels imported after the two-year period, but retroactive payments are no longer on the table, a senior administration official said.

Mr. Biden’s move drew mixed reviews from energy manufacturers.

Abigail Ross Harper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, praised the moves by Mr. Biden.

“While the Department of Commerce investigation will continue as required by statute, and we remain confident that a review of the facts will result in a negative determination, the president’s action is a much-needed reprieve from this industry-crushing probe,” Ms. Harper said in a statement.

“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,” she said.

Gregory Wetstone, the president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, called Mr. Biden’s actions “incredibly welcome news.”

“It is no small matter for @POTUS to take these actions, which are in some respects unprecedented, and we are exceptionally grateful for this help at this crucial time,” he wrote on Twitter.

Others sharply criticized the moves.

Samantha Sloan, vice president of policy for First Solar Inc., a major solar panel manufacturer, accused the administration of sticking a “Band-Aid on the issue and hope that it goes away.”

In a statement, she said the president’s actions “directly undermines American solar manufacturing by giving unfettered access to China’s state-subsidized solar companies for the next two years.”

Nick Iacovella, senior vice president of public affairs for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a trade reform group, said the administration said lifting the tariffs gives China a free pass on anti-competitive practices.

“It’s time to call this for what it is: Building Back Beijing,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Defense Production Act, signed by President Harry S. Truman during the Cold War, allows the president to use emergency powers to prioritize the development of materials deemed necessary for national security.

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