U.S. solar power group says it sees headwinds ahead

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A U.S. solar power trade group said the Trump administration was standing in the way of growth, but the sector showed resilience in the third quarter.

A report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association found total installed capacity topped 2 gigawatts in the third quarter, but the pace of growth was slower than last year. Through the end of the third quarter, researchers found solar power installations are behind pace from the same period last year by 22 percent.

“The solar industry is a resilient bunch, but this quarter shows us what happens when policy uncertainty becomes a disruptive factor: prices rise, supplies shift and the market reacts accordingly,” Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement.

The joint report said prices for solar modules increased during the third quarter because of a shortage of supplies and the lack of clarity on a case before the U.S. International Trade Commission, the so-called Section 201 trade case.

In October, the USITC recommended a series of tariffs on certain solar power components that were imported into the U.S. market “in such increased quantities” that they were interfering with the domestic solar industry.

Commissioner Meredith Broadbent in her recommendations to President Donald Trump said it was a heavily subsidized solar power industry in China that was causing serious injury to the U.S. sector.

“I believe the president intends to address China’s non-market economic policies that have contributed to global oversupply as part of broader bilateral negotiations with the government of China, and I support those efforts,” she said in her October ruling.

The joint solar report attributed higher tariffs to the increase in price, which potentially contributed to the decline in solar power installations.

“We urge President Trump to reject tariffs and allow solar to continue its amazing growth for the U.S. economy, national security and American families in all 50 states,” Hopper said.

Trump during a visit to China in early November said he was eager to improve the U.S. trade relationship with China, but so far, it “has not been, over the last many, many years, a very fair one for us.”

Despite the decline reported in the joint report, their data show the third quarter was the eighth quarter in a row that installations were above 2 GW, showing the trend line spans two presidential administrations.

In September, the U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory said the cost to install solar power during the first quarter of the year reached a record low because of higher efficiencies, lower labor costs and the decline in the price for photovoltaic components.

For utility-scale projects, those supplying energy to the nation’s grid, the costs are down about 30 percent when compared with first quarter 2016, the federal report said. That meant a benchmark for solar competitiveness against other forms of energy outlined in the SunShot Initiative, a policy left over from President Barack Obama, was achieved three years ahead of schedule.

President Trump has until January to make a decision.

                                                                                                                                                   By Daniel J. Graeber