US solar company to lay off hundreds of workers after Trump tariffs

US solar company to lay off hundreds of workers after Trump tariffs

American solar company SunPower will lay off about 3 percent of its workforce in March, a decision that comes after President TrumpDonald John TrumpMexican presidential candidate vows to fire back at Trump's 'offensive' tweets Elizabeth Warren urges grads to fight for 'what is decent' in current political climate Jim Carrey takes aim at Kent State grad who posed with AR-10 MORE began imposing new tariffs on imported solar materials earlier this month

SunPower has already started the process of laying off between 150 and 250 workers, largely from its research and development and marketing positions, CEO Tom Werner told The Hill. The cuts will amount to about a 10 decrease in operational expenses.

The cuts made by the publicly traded company, which is based in San Jose, Calif., are largely an effort to stop the bleeding from the new costs associated with the 30 percent tariffs, Werner said.

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SunPower estimates that with the new tariffs it will lose $50 million this year, about one-sixth of the company's overall operating costs. According to Werner, the company fears that next year's losses will be even more staggering, predicting the firm could lose closer to $100 million. 

Following the administration's decision on tariffs, SunPower announced it was halting a planned $20 million investment to expand factories and create hundreds of new jobs in the U.S.

Werner said the money has instead been used to pay the tariffs.

SunPower is one of many U.S. solar companies hoping to qualify for a waiver from the tariff. In the weeks leading up to and following the solar tariff decision, Werner has attended dozens of meetings in Washington, D.C., with administration officials at the Department of Energy, Commerce Department and the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Werner said he's positive from his meetings that SunPower will be exempted. He added that failing to obtain the waiver will likely result in more job cuts and a shift toward more investment in foreign markets.

"We'll have to cut costs even more, we just don’t have the money. A cursory review of our balance sheet would see there is not sufficient money which would mean decreased American investment — we’d focus on foreign markets where we don’t have to pay a tariff," said Werner. 

Werner said the shift to overseas would take jobs with it. 

The administration won't alert companies applying for a waiver on whether they will be granted an exemption until April 16 at the earliest, 60 days from the deadline for exclusion notification, Werner was told by officials.

He said that if SunPower does not hear its fate in a reasonable amount of time thereafter, it will have to make hard decisions over what to do with its U.S. investment.

"Certainly there is a possibility (of more layoffs). The company is not going to be successful in a perpetual downsizing mode — so this won't go on," he said. "We think it's two quarters or less that we are going to size the company to the reality we are in. We are confident that in the end we will get excluded and be able reinvest — but the process has to play out, so we’ll see."

While SunPower is based in the U.S. and employs hundreds of American workers, it does not manufacture solar panels inside the the country, rather shipping them from overseas. The new tariff was created largely to boost manufacturing of those products within the U.S.

The tariff, announced in late January, was seen as a major blow for the $28 billion solar industry, which gets about 80 percent of its solar panel products from imports.

The Solar Energy Industries Association predicted the tariffs would increase prices and kill 23,000 jobs. The group represents manufacturers, as well as installers, sellers and others in the field.