A bid from renewables developer Invenergy to temporarily pause the Trump administration’s abrupt decision to reimpose tariffs on bifacial solar panels has been granted.
The Trump administration granted bifacial panels an exemption from the broader U.S. solar import tariffs in June, in part because of its determination that bifacial supply to the U.S. was “highly limited.” The decision was cheered by project developers eager to make use of a higher-efficiency technology that's expected to make big inroads in the solar market in the years ahead.
But in October, the administration reversed course on its exemption, giving the solar industry trade-policy whiplash and prompting challenges to the decision. Some U.S. solar manufacturers had opposed the exemption.
This week’s order is a provisional win for Invenergy, which filed a complaint soon after alleging the U.S. Trade Representative’s turnaround was “unlawfully entered” because it didn’t allow for notice or comment prior to pulling the exclusion. The Solar Energy Industries Association sided with Invenergy on the case.
In an email, Invenergy told GTM it is “pleased with the order” and hopes for more permanent relief.
The withdrawal, slated to take effect Friday, is now delayed until at least November 21 or until a judge rules on Invenergy’s request for a permanent injunction. The temporary order could also be extended.
While the future of the policy remains hazy, Xiaojing Sun, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, said the order “does signal the reversal of the exemption is not rock-solid.”
Despite SEIA’s stance, solar companies are far from unified on the exclusion for bifacial panels.
South Korea-based Hanwha Q Cells and First Solar, whose technology has always been free from the tariffs, criticized the administration’s decision to grant bifacial modules an exemption from the start.
“We agree to disagree with [Hanwha] on this,” John Smirnow, SEIA’s general counsel and vice president of market strategy, told Morning Consult this week.
Both First Solar and Hanwha opened factories in the U.S. in the wake of the Section 201 tariff decision in January 2018, which added duties to imported solar cells and modules. The two manufacturers argue that the exclusion undermines those trade protections.
Hanwha “Q Cells didn’t ask for the 201 tariffs, but we responded to them and built the largest solar module factory in America,” a company spokesperson said in an email to GTM. “This exclusion clearly undermines that policy and will harm domestic manufacturers like us, which is why it [was] withdrawn by the U.S. Trade Representative.”
SEIA and other firms disagree, however. When the administration granted the exclusion, Smirnow told GTM that it would bolster bifacial growth at a time when the technology remains in a “relatively early stage” of deployment.
More than supporting U.S.-based industry as Trump hoped, the administration’s fickle trade policies appear to have created cracks in the unity of the larger solar industry.
While a number of solar manufacturers, including Hanwha, Jinko and LG, have invested in U.S. facilities due in part to the trade restrictions, SEIA has fiercely lobbied against the tariffs.
As the Trump administration and the solar industry quibble over the details of the tariffs, the Section 201 duties are on the path to stepping down. Currently, they decrease 5 percent each year, dissolving altogether after 2022, though the administration is undertaking a midterm review of the duties and their schedule.