Energy & Environment

White House seeks to assure senators on solar investigation

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White House officials told a group of Democratic senators this week that the Biden administration is working to temper the uncertainty associated with a federal investigation of solar panel manufacturers.

A bipartisan coalition of senators, led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), has repeatedly warned Biden that the Commerce Department’s investigation of potential tariff circumvention by Asian panel manufacturers could devastate the industry.

However, only Democrats were present at a Monday meeting in which it was discussed, according to a source familiar who provided a readout to The Hill.  

In addition to Rosen, attendees included Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.). Administration officials on the call included National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, White House legislative affairs Director Louisa Terrell and Deputy National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi. 

The call was first reported by Axios. 

The investigation concerns crystalline silicon modules produced in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, which collectively accounted for 65 percent of module imports worldwide in 2021. Numerous suppliers have canceled shipments due to the tariff burden created by the investigation.

During Monday’s call, the White House officials told the senators that the president will not intervene in the investigation but that the administration is “looking at every tool and authority at the President’s disposal to end the uncertainty the solar industry is feeling,” according to the source. 

Although the deadline for the findings of the investigation is Aug. 29, the officials committed to taking action to address the uncertainty in the industry within the days and weeks ahead rather than waiting until the end of the summer, according to the readout. 

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced the investigation in March in response to a petition from solar panel manufacturer Auxin Solar. The Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA) has claimed that it will be forced to reduce projected solar installation capacity by half as a result of the investigation, potentially devastating the administration’s own renewable energy goals. 

Meanwhile, trade protectionist organizations have said the SEIA has a conflict of interest due to the numerous American subsidiaries of Chinese companies it counts as members.

SEIA Vice President of Public Affairs Dan Whitten has called this criticism “absurd and patently false,” telling The Hill last week that “out of SEIA’s 60 board companies, all have U.S. operations and one company has a headquarters in China. Like every board member, they have one vote.” 

Tags Biden Brian Deese Jacky Rosen Jacky Rosen Joe Biden Louisa Terrell Martin Heinrich solar industry solar tariffs

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