Why Tariffs on Chinese Photovoltaics Are Bad for the Planet

The U.S. has placed tariffs on Chinese solar panels in a bid to protect American solar companies. David Biello reports

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This week, the U.S. government slapped tariffs(pdf) of more than 31 percent on the price of solar cells made by Chinese companies that cooperated with a recent probe. Those companies that stayed mum face even higher tariffs—as much as 250 percent.

Why? The feds suggest that Chinese solar companies are selling their modules at less than fair value. (pdf)

In 2011 alone, we imported more than 93 million photovoltaic modules from China, thanks to prices that fell below $1 per watt.

Raising that price through tariffs might prevent more U.S. solar companies from going bankrupt like Solyndra and Unisolar did. But the tariffs will also mean higher prices for U.S. customers who want solar power—whether homeowners or utilities.

High prices have been the main reason that solar power still accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. And high prices mean our nation will continue to convert only slowly from relying on electricity derived from burning fossil fuels to relying more on electricity derived directly from the sun.

Given that the world has a large and growing problem with greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, that’s not a good outcome for the planet.

—David Biello