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5 May 2022

Bipartisan senator grouping calls for shortened DoC solar probe

A group of twenty-two US Senators have written a letter to President Biden, calling on him to expedite the Department of Commerce anti-dumping and countervailing duties (AD-CVD) probe into solar module imports from Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. The letter cites Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) doomsday predictions – 51 GW solar and 6 GWh battery development stalled in the course of the next two years, with $52 billion at stake – should exclusionary import tariffs be placed on the source of over 80% of the US supply of solar panels.

The letter-signing initiative is led by Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who played a role in the dismissal of last year’s anti-dumping petition at an earlier stage of the process, and who headed another letter to Biden in January calling for Section 201 tariffs on solar modules to be abolished, including on non-bifacial panels.

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, who instructed the department to “integrate climate considerations into its policy making” after the probe began, still otherwise stands by the probe. Days ago she sent a letter to fourteen legislators including Rosen, which includes the words “We stand ready to work with you and Congress to advance legislation that would provide incentives to bolster renewable energy … the Department of Commerce stands ready to work with Congress to diversify supply chains and develop greater domestic solar manufacturing capacity.” This suggests that the Biden Administration still intends to pass some kind of solar manufacturing subsidy scheme, though there is little other evidence of it.

Of the twenty-two signatories to the letter, two are Republican. However limited or even poison-pilled Republican support for renewables can be, given their support for fossil fuels and alliances with utilities, it has been much in evidence lately.

This week also saw the Republican Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, veto a bill which would have allowed utilities to charge ongoing fees for residential solar grid connection while also phasing down Net Metering, which would have effectively also sabotaged the solar industry. The move brings DeSantis into line with his Democrat challenger Charlie Crist’s position on the matter, indicating the popularity of Net Metering and renewables in general even among Republicans.

Then there is the possibility that West Virginia Senator Manchin may pass some kind of energy spending bill ahead of the midterms. Months after killing the Biden Administration’s $1.75 trillion BBB scheme, Manchin is back in talks concerning such a bill – but the talks are now bipartisan, with both Democrat and Republican senators involved. Mitt Romney was among the four Republicans in Manchin’s first such meeting, which also had seven Democrats.

With the 2022 midterms almost certain to deliver the Senate at least and possibly the House of Representatives, to Republicans, President Biden has only six months to get some kind of green energy spending bill passed – but Senator Manchin also has only those six months in which he is a key figure who can provide or withhold the 50th Senate vote from the Democrats, and perhaps centrist Republicans such as Senator Romney feel they will have less influence than they do now once their own party has 53 or even 54 Senate seats.

Besides being the main holdout out of 50 Senate Democrats, sometimes joined by Senator Sinema, Manchin is also the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Manchin has familial interests tied up in the coal industry, and has protected that family business by – among other things – ensuring that a 2009 clean energy bill in his state defined waste coal as “alternative energy.” To this day West Virginian electricity is 88% coal, and just 6% renewables.

There’s a lot of different agendas bundled into a $.175 trillion bill, which had $555 billion for energy spending. Some lobby groups such the Center for American Progress, as well as some progressive House Democrats, are conceding that compromises may have to be made – if it’s green energy that makes the cut, it may be because more socially-oriented policies are removed, and because various provisions supporting fossil fuels are present alongside those supporting renewable energy. A restart of offshore oil and gas lease approvals is one topic Senator Manchin has pressured Biden on this year, whereas universal pre-K (pre-school education) and affordable childcare are said to be out. If Manchin can find ten Republicans to vote with the 50 Democrats, then whatever bill results is what we will be left with.

Senator Manchin stated that one topic discussed in his bipartisan meeting was a carbon border adjustment – a tax on imports from countries whose emission reduction efforts are lacking.

Republican voters’ support for solar and wind has fallen from 84% to 73% and from 75% to 62% from 2020 to 2021, but this is simply because of the association with the Biden Administration’s policy agenda. A lot of wind power is in the Midwest, and both solar and wind utility-scale plants are naturally developed in rural areas – who wouldn’t support investment in their own back yards?