There is a silver lining to utility scale solar getting a punch in the gut, and the solar import tariff impacts utility-scale solar more than rooftop solar.
Utilities have used large solar projects to show environmental stewardship, but it is a dog and pony show. Consumer-owned solar has been taking a beating against the ropes for years. For example in the Tennessee Valley Authority region there is still no established procedure to connect residential solar to the grid, even at low Buy-Back rates which would lower non-participant energy cost and clean the grid! And it’s a regulated grid meaning the TVA has a monopoly supposedly to benefit it’s consumers! But their utility-scale programs helped launch Silicon Ranch (by former TVA execs), which was recently acquired by Shell.
United States energy policy favors big energy, renewable and non-renewable alike. But solar is a consumer product made from the same raw materials as your computer and cell phone. It has the most value at the point of use, and creates the most jobs when installed on the roof. We cannot disenfranchise consumers from investing in renewables if we want to have clean air and a healthy environment. But if we can’t implement no brainer solar policy in the United States then why even bother with more nuanced discussion about tariffs?
If the import tariff pops that utility scale solar bubble, and the result is that more attention is paid to consumer-owned solar policy, then I’ll withdraw my skepticism and praise the import tariff. However the process of taxing solar imports and then providing a tax credit on the install means that solar remains a toy for the rich, instead of being the most transformative technology since the internet.
Author: John Cromer, instructor
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