It's a well-known story to those who follow clean energy affairs: A few years ago, China began aggressively subsidizing its solar panel manufacturing industry. With its economy less hindered by the global recession, the nation pumped tens of billions of dollars into the sector.
The result, as we know now, yielded a double-edged sword: The cost of solar panels plummeted, making them more affordable the world over. But U.S. and European manufacturers struggled to compete with the economic giant, and China's solar blitz brought a wave of bankruptcies for domestic companies. Solyndra was the most high-profile victim.
So, in an effort to protect domestic solar manufacturers, the Obama administration has announced it will impose a small tariff on solar panels imported from China. Here's the New York Times:
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday that it would impose tariffs on solar panels imported from China after concluding that the Chinese government provided illegal export subsidies to manufacturers there.This case seems likely to split the green commentariat—on the one hand, we need solar panels as cheap and abundant as possible, in order to speed the transition to clean energy and away from fossil fuels. On the other, a stable, sustainable solar market that fosters global competition and is not distorted by over-aggressive subsidy policies—policies that could be temporary—is desirous as well. And, to be sure, we all want to see a robust, competitive domestic solar industry here in the United States.
The tariffs were smaller, at 2.9 to 4.73 percent, than some American industry executives had expected. At that size, their effect on the market could be limited. But additional tariffs could be imposed in May, when the Commerce Department is scheduled to decide whether China is “dumping” solar panels into the United States at prices below their actual cost. A finding of dumping would result in additional tariffs that could be far larger than these.