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Washington Watch: Biden to extend Trump’s solar tariffs, but with a key change

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President Joe Biden will extend Trump-era tariffs on imported solar equipment by four years, but in a gesture for domestic solar installers, eased the terms to exclude a panel technology increasingly used in big U.S. projects.

The decision, announced by a top administration official to the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets Friday, reflects the Biden administration’s challenge to support American union labor, but accept the often cheaper overseas-made components that could help propel the U.S. to its ambitious zero-emissions goals.

Reducing or eliminating the tariffs was heavily pushed by U.S. solar installers, while the U.S. makers of solar components said they still needed the trade boost to remain competitive with overseas, mostly Asian, competition. Other renewable-energy interests have said access to cheaper solar manufacturing is necessary to keep the source more attractive than traditional fossil fuels, such as oil CL00, +2.60% and natural gas NG00, -5.85%.

The four-year extension of the tariff exempts bifacial panels which can generate electricity on both sides and are favored by large-scale developers. The technology has become more readily available just in the time since the tariffs were first imposed by the previous administration.

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The extension also doubles the import quota on solar cells — the main components of panels — to 5 gigawatts, and opens a pathway for duty-free supply from neighboring Canada and Mexico, the Journal reported.

Former President Trump leaned on a 1974 trade act for the tariffs, which were set to expire on Feb. 6. The tariffs started at 30% and declined to 15% in the final year.

The U.S. International Trade Commission in November, following a three-month review, said the tariffs were still necessary to prevent harm to the U.S. solar manufacturing industry.

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Broader solar trade groups countered that the continuation of the tariffs would threaten Biden’s goal to dramatically expand clean energy ICLN, +1.16% and decarbonize the U.S. electricity sector by 2035 to slow global warming.

Biden has pledged to set the U.S. on course toward net-zero emissions by 2050 and an even more ambitious marker of halving U.S. emissions by the end of this decade. But in pushing renewable energy and electric-vehicle incentives he has also said U.S. and specifically, union jobs, must be a priority.

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