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There’s a storm brewing over solar energy in the US. And Joe Biden is at the center of it. The US president has promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Converting American homes and industries to solar power is a key part of the plan. The goal is very ambitious. Currently, only 3 percent of US electricity is generated from solar panels. The Biden administration wants that to rise to 40 percent by 2035.
Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of new solar panels will be needed. Where those panels will be built is at the center of a controversy that has overshadowed U.S. solar developments in recent months. The White House wants to fight climate change. But he also wants to promote an American-made green energy transition that brings solar manufacturing and jobs to the U.S. from places like China, which currently dominates the market.
Joe Biden launched the Defense Production Act in June to jump-start domestic manufacturing. It’s a Cold War-era law that gives the federal government additional powers to boost domestic production of certain products to bolster national security. The law, which was used to build tanks and weapons in wartime, is now being used to boost production of solar panels to combat climate change.
In addition, Biden waived 24 months of tariffs on solar panels produced in four Southeast Asian countries. The move was in response to a months-long Commerce Department investigation into whether Chinese manufacturers were evading US import tariffs by setting up shop in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. These countries accounted for more than 80 percent of US solar panel imports last year. And they are essential to many US solar projects.
American solar manufacturers argued that the investigation effectively froze solar imports because of the threat of high retroactive tariffs. Hundreds of solar energy projects across the country have been put on hold this year. And one forecaster said new installations could drop by about half in 2022 and 2023.
The White House’s approach has divided the US solar industry. Solar project developers welcomed the move. But U.S. solar panel makers argue it undermines the president’s efforts to build a green energy revolution at home by allowing China to continue flooding the market with cheap panels.