Washington solar company ‘devastated’ over Trump tariff

Jan 26, 2018, 5:10 AM | Updated: 8:34 am
Solar panels. (AP)
LISTEN: Washington solar company 'devastated' over Trump tariff

The American solar industry is shaking its head after President Donald Trump placed a tariff on solar imports. The industry was expanding and now many companies are looking to cut back. That means shedding jobs.

RELATED: We’re about to pay more for solar power and washing machines

That’s according to Eugene Wilke with Now! Solar, based in Richland, Wash. He took to Twitter to say he was “devastated” after hearing the news that Trump placed a 30 percent tariff on imported solar products.

“The entire industry is against this,” he told KIRO Radio.

The Solar Energy Association projects that the move will cost tens of thousands of jobs. It has even drawn the ire of Trump’s own party.

Washington solar

About 95 percent of the materials for solar power are imported from countries like Malaysia and South Korea, so the 30 percent tariff is a big hit to the domestic manufacturers, suppliers, and installers. Over the past few years, with government incentives in Washington, Wilke was able to expand his customer base to people earning between $30,000 and $100,000 annually. But with the tariff, he says only the upper class will benefit.

“We are really fortunate here in Washington that we have an incentive that (the government) will pay 50 percent of the solar system,” Wilke said. “So I think we will ride it out OK. As far as other states that don’t have an incentive like this, there is no way they will hit that 5-year return on investment that customers are looking for.”

In South Carolina, for example, Wilke says, they are poised to lose about 7,000 jobs because of the tariffs. It mostly impacts companies like Wilke’s when it comes to customers on the lower end of the economic ladder.

“Which is where saving on energy bills has the most effect,” he said. “It’s going to hurt us in that people on the lower spectrum of the middle class will not be able to afford this anymore. My remaining market are those on higher end of the spectrum of the middle class.”

The other damage to the industry that the tariff will cause, according to Wilke, is the competitive edge solar had with fossil fuels. Solar has been far cheaper than fossil fuels in recent years.

“On our large utility scale systems, we are installing at less than gas, oil, or coal can ever dream of,” he said. “If we’re 30 percent more on our projects, we are back up to the cost of coal and oil.”

Which, in turn, means less energy independence. For Wilke, that comes down to two things: national independence and independence for the individual.

“We import most of our oil from overseas,” he said. “One of the things I was surprised to understand is how much the U.S. spends on protecting oil getting to our shores. I don’t really call that energy independence … That ability to own your own energy is phenomenal for a homeowner.”

Wilke tweeted about his frustration over the Trump tariffs. Following his tweets, he reports that his company started to receive threats.


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Washington solar company ‘devastated’ over Trump tariff