By Morgan Petronelli
The U.S. renewable energy industry took a big hit on Jan. 22 when President Donald Trump imposed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels, mainly targeting panels manufactured in China and shipped from overseas.
Over 80 percent of the solar panel supply is not manufactured in the U.S., subsequently causing a controversy over the loss of panel installation jobs in the states versus taking economic steps to slow down China’s production in the industry.
Youngstown State University professors discussed Trump’s decision to impose the tariff.
Jeffrey Dick, chairman of the geological and environmental sciences department, said the economic move might cause solar panel installers to be uncomfortable for a period, but is overall a wise move on the U.S. government’s part.
“It is a knee-jerk reaction of the pundits who claim it is Trump’s desire to harm green energy,” Dick said. “To the contrary, it will help green industry in the long run, while at the same time increasing high-paying skilled labor jobs.”
He said China has “unfair trade policies,” which makes it complicated for U.S.-based companies to compete.
“It is about time our government fought back,” Dick said.
Despite Dick’s hope for the U.S. solar panel industry after the addition of the tariff, another professor said he doesn’t buy what the executive branch is feeding to the public.
Alan Jacobs, geological and environmental sciences professor, said the new solar tariff is “counterproductive” because it leads to Americans paying more for the imported panels and running the risk of initiating a trade war with China that could lead to the same tariffs being imposed.
“To protect our solar panel manufacturers and prevent retaliatory tariffs on our exported goods, our government should provide subsidies to our solar panel manufacturers instead. After all, we give breaks to oil companies and farmers,” Jacobs said.
He also said the decrease in the purchase of solar panels could lead to an increase in the use of fossil fuels to produce electrical power instead of utilizing costly, yet renewable energy like solar power.
“Our finite fossil fuel reserves should be used in the chemical industries, rather than burning them and producing air pollution and climate change. By this action, does the White House really intend to promote the use of solar energy or jobs in the solar industry? I doubt it,” Jacobs said.
While YSU’s environmental science department is divided about the issue, Todd Porter, chair of the economic department, said he sees the ups and downs of the solar panel tariff debacle.
“What [Trump is] hoping for with the tariff is to try and protect [U.S.] manufacturers of solar panels, but some of the consequences of that are: number one, consumers are going to get hurt, and number two, you may have jobs kind of downstream that are going to be affected as well,” Porter said.
He said despite Trump’s economic ambitions to slow down globalization abroad, people who install solar panels and those who work in the solar power industry are going to be affected by the tariff, which leads to expected concern from those individuals.
“Unless there is really strong evidence that you need to protect an industry to allow it to mature … [people] are kind of skeptical that these kinds of trade barriers are going to be beneficial overall to the economy,” Porter said.