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SOLAR VERSUS TARIFFS: The U.S. solar industry is working a multi-front campaign against tariffs on imported cell and module products in an effort to maintain a high rate of growth and carry its load towards President Joe Biden’s climate targets.
Most recently, that’s involved the Solar Energy Industries Association — which represents 1,000 firms ranging from racking, silicon, and module manufacturers to panel installers and steel companies — warning Biden against extending Trump-era tariffs on solar cell and module imports that come in from mostly Asian countries.
The U.S. International Trade Commission this week recommended that Biden extend the tariffs to protect domestic manufacturing of cells and modules. Moving forward with the tariffs would extend a “job-killing” policy, SEIA said in response, and the group’s top trade expert disputes that they boost manufacturing.
“We’ve seen a decade of tariff policy, and we haven't really built a robust solar supply chain here,” John Smirnow, general counsel and vice president of market strategy for SEIA, told Jeremy, describing a “philosophical difference” between supporters and opponents of the tariffs.
“They don't do that. They're not effective at growing manufacturing,” Smirnow added, plugging Democrats’ pending spending bill, which would boost the investment tax credit for panel installs. “If you want to grow manufacturing in the U.S., you need long-term federal investments and the type of investments that we see in the Build Back Better Act.”
Data bear that out. U.S.-manufactured solar photovoltaic modules are projected to total 5.2 gigawatts this year, as compared to 27.8 gigawatts from imports, per data from Rystad Energy. Also, data from USITC’s report accompanying its recommendation found that import volumes of the products rose at a rate many orders of magnitude larger than manufacturing of products in the U.S. between 2018 and 2020.
The boost the industry is seeing due to those imports has put it in a position of being “as strong as it’s ever been,” Smirnow said, which would seem to undercut SEIA’s argument that the tariffs pose a major threat to growth — something Smirnow acknowledged.
“That's a complicated narrative, right? ‘You're doing well, you're growing.’ We could be doing much better if we didn't face all these headwinds, especially these tariffs,” he said.
The other front: USITC’s recommendation came almost exactly a month after the Commerce Department rejected requests by a group of anonymous U.S. solar manufacturers that antidumping and countervailing duties be imposed on cell and module imports from Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Petitioners had alleged those countries were functional pass-throughs to get Chinese products to market.
Although Smirnow didn’t deny that the products do utilize wafer inputs from China, he insisted that most of the manufacturing process of cell and module imports from Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam do in fact take place in the respective countries, meaning they don’t deserve being subjected to circumvention tariffs against China.
He said the U.S. government has long held that what ultimately matters for the purpose of determining whether circumvention duties should apply to such products is where the cell itself is manufactured.
“But in the [antidumping] case, the petitioners wanted to throw that out,’ Smirnow said, calling the argument “self-serving.” He asserted that U.S. cell and module manufacturers like the anonymous petitioners also rely on wafer imports and sought to have a “competitive advantage” over Asian module producers.
A note on Xinjiang: The House passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act this week, which would bar products, including solar imports, from the Xinjiang region if they were produced by forced labor. While the globe, including the U.S., has been heavily reliant on polysilicon from that region, Smirnow said that domestic industry’s dependence has fallen as companies turn to other regions for the key material due to China’s human rights abuses.
“A year ago, we were very reliant on products from that region. Today, we are not,” he said, explaining there are alternative sources from other regions in China and Germany that can pick up the slack and limit the effect on the domestic industry.
“There's 40% of polysilicon in Xinjiang,” he said, a reference to data from BloombergNEF estimating that about half of China’s 80% global share of polysilicon production came from the region in 2020. “But [the rest] is not.”
Welcome to Daily on Energy, written by Washington Examiner Energy and Environment Writer Jeremy Beaman (@jeremywbeaman). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email, and we’ll add you to our list.
BREAKING: BIDEN HALTS FINANCING FOR OVERSEAS FOSSIL FUEL PROJECTS: The Biden administration has halted federal support for coal, oil, and gas projects overseas, as detailed in a cable sent late last week to U.S. embassies and obtained by Bloomberg News.
The policy includes exemptions, including for national security concerns, but illustrates the priority Biden is placing on addressing climate change.
GM PLANS $3B FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN MICHIGAN: General Motors is planning to spend $3 billion to make electric vehicles in Michigan, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The automaker is working on plans to convert its Orion Assembly plant in suburban Detroit to produce electric pickup trucks and to build a battery-cell factory near one of its assembly plants in Lansing.
GM is joining other automakers in investing in battery plants. Toyota plans to invest $1.25 billion on a new battery plant in North Carolina, it was reported this week, and Ford in September said it would spend more than $11 billion to build three battery plants in the U.S.
LAWMAKERS LOBBY BIDEN AGAINST EXPORT BAN: A bipartisan group of eight House lawmakers is discouraging Biden from imposing an ban on crude oil exports, something a host of Democrats have urged him to undertake in an attempt to lower gasoline prices.
In a letter to Biden, led by Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of top U.S. oil producer Texas, the congressmen argue an export ban would restrict global supply and send prices upward, discourage domestic oil production, and injure diplomatic relationships with countries that rely on U.S. exports.
“If your Administration wants to alleviate the pain at the pump, you should turn to our own U.S. oil and natural gas resources for the solution and remove the policy barriers inhibiting domestic production,” the lawmakers said.
Democratic lawmakers in both chambers have pushed Biden to consider an export ban, the argument being that keeping oil at home will boost supply and lower prices.
Each of the objections raised by Cuellar and co. has been raised by other export ban opponents ever since 11 Democratic senators asked Biden to consider it a month ago.
“We have allies, geopolitical allies, who need energy right now, and we have energy,” Dave Callahan, president of the Appalachia-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, told Jeremy in a recent interview when probed about a ban. “Do we want to leave our friends out in the cold and in the dark? Do we want them to rely upon energy from OPEC energy from Russia?”
Beyond the industry, Stephen Nally, the acting administrator of the Energy Information Administration, analyzed potential consequences during a Senate hearing last month on energy prices.
“Prices would certainly drop in the U.S. market,” he said when asked about a prospective ban. “Internationally, they would skyrocket [and] lower prices in the U.S. would probably discourage more production.”
REPORT URGES EUROPE TO BYPASS DIRTY RUSSIAN GAS: A new paper from the Progressive Policy Institute argues that Europe should move to reduce its reliance on natural gas from Russia for the environment’s sake and for its own geopolitical benefit.
Paul Bledsoe, strategic adviser at PPI and a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy, notes that Europe is reliant on Russian imports for some 25% of its total gas supply — gas that is produced under less environmentally stringent conditions than in competing nations.
For that, Bledose recommends the continent import more lower-emitting natural gas products from the U.S. and build out LNG port infrastructure to replace Russian gas.
“The geopolitical costs of Russian gas continue to plague the EU broadly, and Ukraine and other Eastern European nations specifically,” Bledsoe writes in a summary, adding that limiting Russian imports “thus could diminish its political leverage over Europe while also helping the EU achieve its climate goals.”
Bledsoe’s conclusions especially echo the position of opponents, including congressional Republicans and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to an expanded Russian energy footprint in Europe via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. They would also seem to give strength to the case against a ban on U.S. fuel commodity exports.
CANADIAN OIL’S FUTURE: The Canadian Energy Regulator expects the country’s oil production to continue rising for the next decade before falling in correlation with the enforcement of national policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Bloomberg reports.
Output will slide beginning in 2032, the regulator said, an outcome that would make a significant cut into the revenues for the world’s fourth-largest oil producer.
ENERGY PRICES FUEL DEMOCRATS’ PUSH FOR BIDEN AGENDA: Officials and organizations supporting the Democrats’ energy and climate agenda are wielding the high cost of oil and gas in support of their case for a switch to renewable energy.
Democratic officials and green groups argue that generating sources like wind and solar are the only thing that will deliver lower prices for customers and insulate them from the demand-driven volatility of fossil fuels, Jeremy writes in our latest magazine.
"We're not subject to the volatility and price spikes you see with global fossil markets," said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, detailing the cheapening of wind and solar power over the last decade.
"We don't see costs decreasing in other energy sources, and when they do, it's only temporary," he said.
THREE NEW REGIONAL APPOINTEES JOINING EPA: The EPA yesterday announced new administrative appointees for the agency’s Regions 6, 7, and 9.
President Biden selected Earthea Nance, an environmental engineer who has performed environmental research on the Gulf Coast, as well as in Brazil and Mozambique, to serve as regional administrator for Region 6. The region covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and 66 tribal nations.
Meg McCollister was chosen for Region 7, covering Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and nine tribal nations. McCollister previously served on the board of directors for Sonoma County Conservation Action in California. For Region 9, covering Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and 148 tribal nations, Biden selected Martha Guzman, who for the last five years served as commissioner at the California Public Utilities Commission.
Wall Street Journal Oil price swings scramble inflation outlook
Reuters Germany to pass extra budget for more climate funds on Monday
MONDAY | DEC. 13
4 p.m. The Atlantic Council Global Energy Center will host an event entitled “Securing the energy and critical infrastructure sectors from cyberattacks,” with keynote remarks from former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.