Earth Day 2021 and Earth Day 2022 couldn’t be more different. In 2021, the Biden administration announced its Build Back Better agenda and its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. This year, while legislation is stalled, the very same administration imperiled its goal with an investigation that will not only impede solar and storage growth, but cause the United States to go backward on its climate goals.
Last month, the Department of Commerce initiated an investigation that could amount to a 50-250% tax on critical solar imports and cost President Biden his climate goals. According to Wood Mackenzie, the investigation could result in the loss of 16 gigawatts (GW) of deployment annually — equivalent to two-thirds of all solar energy installed last year. Over the next four years, that could cause an increase in U.S. carbon emissions of 61 million metric tons.
This investigation is a result of one company’s self-interested claims that solar products imported from Southeast Asia are circumventing tariffs imposed against Chinese companies, despite evidence to the contrary. Because any new tariffs imposed as a result of the investigation can be applied retroactively, the investigation is already grinding the solar market to a halt. A survey conducted by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) found that an incredible 83% of companies have already had their module supply delayed or cancelled.
The timing could not be worse for our planet. Solar energy is foundational to addressing climate change as one of the top emission-free electricity sources available. The 121 gigawatts of installed solar electric capacity in the U.S. is offsetting more than 136 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions of nearly 30,000,000 cars. However, to reach the Biden administration’s target of a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, U.S. solar capacity will need to rapidly expand, from roughly 3% of U.S. electricity generation today to 30% by 2030. SEIA’s 30% by 2030 goal would cut carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 50%. This investigation could not be a larger roadblock to that goal.
Instead of moving full steam ahead toward our climate goals, the Commerce investigation could cost the solar industry 16 GW of deployment annually – equivalent to two-thirds of all solar energy installed last year. Over the next four years, that could cause an increase in U.S. carbon emissions of 61 million metric tons.
Beyond the climate impacts, this investigation is wreaking havoc on U.S. solar businesses and their 231,000 workers. Enacting tariffs could cause the loss of 70,000 solar jobs. This is certainly not what President Biden meant he said, “When I think of climate change, I think about jobs.”
Earth Day is a day of action. In order to avoid another year of spending Earth Day reflecting on actions that do more harm than good, it’s time to get to work now. That means putting an immediate end to this devastating investigation, and instead investing in solutions that would actually grow U.S. solar manufacturing, such as passing long-term tax policy and manufacturing incentives. These policies together could help the U.S. reach 50 GW of domestic solar manufacturing by 2030 – actively building up a homegrown solar manufacturing sector, instead of tearing it down. Without changing course, hopes of addressing climate change and transforming into a clean energy economy simply cannot be realized.