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Georgia solar industry faces headwinds at home and abroad


Drew Kann, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  

 

    Jun. 8—After being hamstrung for months by supply chain constraints, reaction from Georgia solar companies to moves this week by the White House to boost clean energy has been mixed.

    On Monday, President Joe Biden waived tariffs on solar panels from four southeast Asian countries for the next two years. That will allow a Department of Commerce investigation into possible Chinese tariff dodging to progress without bringing large-scale solar projects to a grinding halt.

    Biden also invoked the Defense Production Act in his bid to spur American manufacturing of clean energy technologies, including solar panels.

    While local solar installers largely cheered the moves, the actions have received a more lukewarm reception from major domestic solar manufacturers, who in years past have been hurt by low-cost foreign panels being dumped into the U.S. market. According to the Associated Press, some U.S. solar manufacturers are weighing a challenge to the pause on tariffs on solar imports from southeast Asia.

    South Korea-based Qcells, which operates a 1.7 gigawatt solar panel factory in Dalton recently announced it is investing $171 million to build another plant nearby. A Qcells executive said clearing the path for more imported panels could harm their business.

    "Domestic producers have long suffered against low-cost imports and lack of durable domestic solar manufacturing policy," said Scott Moskowitz, Qcells' head of market strategy and public affairs. "Domestic manufacturers were not consulted about this proclamation and are broadly concerned about the market impact of suspending trade enforcement."

    Moskowitz also questioned whether activating the Defense Production Act would provide much benefit to U.S. solar manufacturers, given the specialized materials and equipment needed to make solar panels.

    Qcells is urging Georgia's U.S. senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, to help protect domestic panel makers.

    Sen. Ossoff introduced the Solar Energy Manufacturing for America Act last year, with Sen. Warnock as one of the bill's co-sponsors. But the legislation, which would offer new tax credits for solar manufacturers, has been stalled in the Senate.

    Ossoff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the White House's moves this week.

    The turbulence of the last few months has disrupted projects big and small, and has hampered the country's transition to renewable energy — one of the Biden administration's top priorities. Expanding the amount of electricity generated from the sun and other renewable sources is key to the global push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.

    The Solar Energy Industries Association — an industry trade group — announced Tuesday that the first quarter of 2022 was the worst for the U.S. solar industry since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, citing price increases and supply chain constraints.

    Georgia Power recently announced that nearly 1,000 megawatts of its planned solar installations are now delayed by a year, slowing the company's transition to renewable energy.

    Montana Busch, president and CEO Alternative Energy Southeast, which designs and installs solar systems in Georgia and across the Southeast, said his company has also been hurt by rising prices and has struggled to source panels.

    "We've had to purchase more inventory which hurts our cash flow, and asking a customer to sign a change order to a more expensive solar panel isn't always easy to do," Busch said.

    He is hopeful that Biden's actions will bring him and other installers some relief.

    "The solar industry was in turmoil during this (Department of Commerce) investigation, which wasn't even going to have a verdict until 2023," Busch said. "Congress and President Biden heard our concerns and acted quickly. For that, I am grateful and proud of our government."

    Still, other headwinds affecting local rooftop solar installers remain.

    A pilot program created in 2019 by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to allow property owners with rooftop solar to dramatically lower their energy bills was limited to 5,000 participants and filled up quickly last summer.

    Those who missed out on a spot say that they are not being reimbursed fairly for excess energy they send back to the grid, and solar installers say the pause has hurt their business.

    Solar groups have asked the PSC to reopen the program, but so far, Georgia Power has opposed expanding it.

    ___

    (c)2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

    Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) at www.ajc.com

    Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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