- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2018

Solar energy’s loss could prove to be wind power’s gain.

On the heels of President Trump’s decision to impose stiff tariffs on all solar panel imports, analysts say there could be an unexpected hole in the energy marketplace over the next few years that other power sources will rush to fill.

The wind industry could be best positioned to capitalize. The sector already is projected to have a banner year and become the nation’s top renewable source of electricity. Among major projects on the horizon is a New York plan to build a huge offshore wind center.

Research from the American Council on Renewable Energy estimates that Mr. Trump’s tariff could result in 5 fewer gigawatts of solar installations this year, delivering a potentially serious blow to the market share of an industry that had been on a steady upward trajectory.

“What’s going to take its place? There are states where you have renewable energy requirements, and some of that will be taken up by wind,” said Todd Foley, the council’s senior vice president of policy and government affairs. “Solar is a player in the overall power market. … It’s not competing against other solar. It’s competing against low-cost natural gas, wind, coal.”

Indeed, states such as California that have legal requirements to generate a given percentage of electricity from renewable sources could find wind projects cheaper and more appealing, some specialists said, though they cautioned that Mr. Trump’s move won’t make a dramatic impact overnight.

The president’s 30 percent tariff on solar panel imports officially went into effect Wednesday after U.S. trade officials found that cheap imports were hurting American manufacturers. The tariff will apply to imports from every country but decrease each year for the next four years.

Some U.S.-based manufacturers pushed for the tariff and argued that foreign products hurt their businesses, but the solar industry as a whole vehemently opposed the penalties and said they could cost as many as 23,000 American jobs in the growing sector by raising costs of the industry’s parts.

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand … they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hardworking, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said after the tariff announcement.

The solar industry’s wild growth is the result of a variety of factors, including rapidly decreasing costs of solar power and access to affordable foreign products. U.S. solar parts manufacturers are still thriving, but the sector as a whole does not have the strong domestic manufacturing base as other fuels.

Wind, for example, touts its domestic manufacturing prowess. For example, 95 percent of the wind power capacity installed in the U.S. in 2016 used a turbine manufacturer with facilities in the U.S., according to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s top trade group. The organization also says that American manufacturing facilities have the capacity to produce 3,150 wind towers and 11,000 wind tower blades each year.

Wind industry relies on some foreign products, but not to the degree solar does. About 80 percent of solar installations in the U.S. use imported panels.

Specialists say that’s largely because the greatest expansion in solar power is in Asia and it makes sense for manufacturing facilities to locate near the most promising markets.

“Part of it is scale, part of it is manufacturing costs. … China is massively installing” solar power, said Roman Kramarchuk, head of energy policy and technology analytics at S&P Global Platts. “If you think about their production base, part of it is going to satisfy their own domestic needs.”

If Mr. Trump’s tariff does have a noticeable impact on the renewable energy marketplace, it could give wind another leg up in what already looks like a record-breaking year.

Wind this year is expected to pass hydropower in electricity generation for the first time ever. Hydropower last year provided 7.4 percent of utility-scale power generation, while wind generated 6.3 percent. This year, wind is expected to creep up to 6.4 percent and hit 6.9 percent by next year, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration. Hydropower this year is projected to supply 6.5 percent of electricity generation.

Solar power in recent years has hovered around 1 percent of total electricity generation.

The wind industry, which installed 7,017 megawatts of capacity and opened 29 wind farms last year, also has its sights set on several massive projects set to come online in the next several years.

Perhaps the largest of those is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Offshore Wind Master Plan. The state will spend $15 million to train employees for the industry and aim to install 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to power at least 1.2 million homes.

“While the federal government continues to turn its back on protecting natural resources and plots to open up our coastline to drilling, New York is doubling down on our commitment to renewable energy and the industries of tomorrow,” Mr. Cuomo said when he announced the plan late last month.

Still, analysts say it’s foolish to assume that utilities and investors immediately will abandon solar in favor of wind.

“You’re not going to see entities turn on a dime,” Mr. Kramarchuk said.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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