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Saturday, Sep 30, 2023

Solar Battle Heats Up Over Tariffs

Edward Harner’s decision to testify last month before the International Trade Commission was, he concedes, “a little bit risky.” That’s because Harner, chief operating officer at Green Solar Technologies in North Hollywood, was the only solar installer to speak in favor of new tariffs on imported photovoltaic panels. The case before the ITC involves SolarWorld Americas Inc., a U.S.-based panel maker whose parent company in Germany has filed for bankruptcy. Green Solar in NoHo installs SolarWorld panels, and the company asked Harner to testify in favor of its petition for tariffs against low-cost Asian imports. Most installers, including the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, oppose the tariffs because they would increase the price of panels which they say would hurt business. The association’s website says “tariffs will double the cost of solar panels and will cause the U.S. to lose 88,000 jobs next year.” Also, 69 members of Congress have sent a letter to the ITC opposing the tariffs. While Harner acknowledges tariffs would increase prices, he thinks they’re necessary for the long-term viability of the industry. Currently, panels cost about half of what they cost three years ago, and he believes the market price should indicate the true cost of panels. “The barriers to entry for installers have been artificially low,” he told the Business Journal. “Any mom-and-pop electrician or general contractor can get into the solar game. They don’t worry about staying in business to put their name behind a warranty.” In solar, warranties matter. A residential job may take six to seven years to recoup its installation cost, and after that the customer’s savings depend on panel longevity. Low-quality panels from short-lived companies in Asia don’t give Harner a lot of confidence. “We don’t feel comfortable using the cheapest panels,” he explained. “If the (manufacturer) is no longer around, the warranty is pretty much useless. If (customers) need a new panel and the manufacturer can’t deliver, they will blame us.” The ITC could make a decision as soon as November. Harner expects the tariffs will be implemented, prices will go up and low-margin installers will go out of business. – Joel Russell

Joel Russel
Joel Russel
Joel Russell joined the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006 as a reporter. He transferred to sister publication San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2012 as managing editor. Since he assumed the position of editor in 2015, the Business Journal has been recognized four times as the best small-circulation tabloid business publication in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Previously, he worked as senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine and editor of Business Mexico.

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