President Trump should say no to solar tariffs

Renewable energy and the jobs created by it are a booming industry in the United States. But today, thousands of electrical contractors are worried that actions by their own government may threaten their jobs. Electrical construction jobs—high-tech, high-skilled, and good-paying—are at risk thanks to attempts by two solar companies to convince the U.S. government to bail them out of bad business decisions by imposing trade tariffs on solar panels and cells.

The lever these two companies are hoping to pull is called a Section 201 trade case, a sparingly used part of the U.S. trade law that is supposed to be used by domestic companies that are seriously injured or threatened with serious injury by increased imports. 

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Section 201 is rarely invoked because of the severity of the remedy – blanket tariffs on imports coming from all over the world. To give an idea of the seriousness of bringing such a case, the final decision about whether to impose tariffs or other trade restrictions in a 201 trade case is made by the president of the United States.

We strongly believe that the President should end this case now.

Thousands of companies make up this country’s $130 billion electrical construction industry, and electrical construction workers across the country work tirelessly to build out some of America’s most important infrastructure needs. There are no electrical contractors that would expect the government to bail them out of a bind that they themselves created through bad decision-making. And no one expects the government to act any differently toward companies.

Providing protective tariffs and price floors on solar products would cause harm to rest of the entire industry and the electrical construction workers that support it. The remedies would double the price of solar panels in the U.S., which would slash demand for solar projects and greatly harm the solar industry’s position in the electricity market just as the industry has taken off in earnest.

Last year, the $23 billion solar industry created 51,000 jobs, accounting for about 1 out of every 50 new U.S. jobs created in 2016.  Its success stems from a growing ability to compete with other power sources that supply the electrical grid, putting our members to work to build, frame and maintain these projects. 

Solar energy is one of the most promising sectors in the American economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs for electricians who install utility scale and roof top solar systems around the country. These are good, middle-class jobs that promote apprenticeship, community based hiring, and veterans. More than anything, these jobs reward hard work.

All this progress would be placed at risk if the government decided to undercut the market that has formed the basic ingredients of the successful U.S. solar supply chain. The president must say no to harmful trade relief.  Our electrical contractors’ jobs – and many others – depend on it.  

John M. Grau is CEO of the National Electrical Contractors Association. With more than 4,000 member companies, NECA is the nationally recognized voice of the $130 billion U.S. electrical construction industry.