Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Solar Tariff Case Throws Shade on Growing Solar Industry: Part III

Last week, just before signing the legislation to end the government shutdown, the Trump Administration announced that the President had approved 30% tariffs on imported crystalline silicone photovoltaic (CSPV) modules and cells. As discussed in an earlier post, the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) had proposed a range of remedies in response to a trade dispute brought two by U.S. solar cell manufacturers. All the ITC’s proposed remedies were below the statutory maximum of 50% sought by Suniva and SolarWorld.
Department of Energy
The President’s imposed tariffs align most closely with the recommendations of ITC Commissioners David S. Johanson and Irving A. Williamson. The President adopted the Commissioners’ recommended 30% ad valorem tariffs on imported CSPV cells and modules that decreases by five percentage points per year. However, there are two aspects of the President’s tariffs that diverge from those recommendations that are worth highlighting.
First, the President doubled the quota of imported CSPV cells exempted from the tariffs. Commissioners Johanson and Williamson had recommended that an average of 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of CSPV cells be exempted from the tariffs each year. The President’s tariffs exempt 2.5 GW of imported CSPV cells each year. The increased quota should lessen the blow to the U.S. solar industry—slightly. This is an area where ITC Commissioner Meredith M. Broadbent departed from her colleagues. Commissioner Broadbent was the only ITC commissioner to propose a tariff-exempt quota for imported CSPV modules in addition to cells. By exempting only CSPV cells, the tariff appears to encourage some amount of module assembly in the United States.
Second, the President’s tariffs apply to the broadest number of countries possible. While all four members of the ITC recommended that tariffs be imposed on CSPV cells and modules imported from South Korea and Mexico, a majority of the commissioners recommended that Canada not be included in the tariffs. Nevertheless, the President did not exclude Canada from the tariffs. In addition to Canada, the President’s tariffs also apply to CSPV cells and modules imported from Thailand and the Philippines.
While the President’s tariffs will likely cause numerous job losses—the Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that 23,000 solar-related jobs will be lost in the United States as a result of decreased demand for CSPV installations due to the expected increase in CSPV prices occasioned by the tariffs—the outcome could have been much worse. For example, the President’s tariff on residential washing machines, announced at the same time as the CSPV tariff, exceeded the harshest recommendations made by the ITC.
At this point, the precise effects of the tariffs on the U.S. solar market are uncertain. However, negative effects are likely to be more pronounced on commercial solar projects where CSPV modules make up a greater share of project costs. In addition, there is still a great deal of uncertainty with regards to the implementation of the tariffs. For example, how will the quota of tariff-exempt CSPV be allocated, how will the Administration deal with the possibility that production may move to countries (e.g., India and Turkey) currently exempt from the tariffs? Finally, what will the World Trade Organization do with complaints regarding the Administration’s tariffs? All of this uncertainty casts a long shadow on the potential growth of U.S. solar capacity.

Friday, January 26, 2018

FERC Rejects Rick Perry’s Directive to Subsidize Uneconomical Power Plants—and Presents Diverging Visions for the Future of the U.S. Energy System

By Amelia Schlusser, Staff Attorney

Last October, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry submitted a Proposed Rule on Grid Reliability and Resilience Pricing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Proposed Rule directed FERC to impose new rules on the organizations responsible for managing the nation’s competitive wholesale power markets. These new rules were required ensure that certain coal and nuclear power plants received premium rates for the electricity they sold and ensure that the plants’ owners fully recovered their costs and earned a guaranteed profit on their capital investments. In late October, GEI submitted comments to FERC, urging the Commission to reject Secretary Perry’s proposal. GEI argued that the Proposed Rule violated section 206 of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. § 824e(a)), which mandates that all wholesale electricity rates must be “just and reasonable” and prohibits FERC from approving rates that are unduly preferential or discriminatory. On January 8, FERC officially rejected the Secretary’s directive and terminated the rulemaking proceeding it had initiated in response to the Proposed Rule. In its Order, FERC agreed that the Proposed Rule would establish rates that were not “just and reasonable” and would grant preferential treatment to eligible coal and nuclear generators while unduly discriminating against other resources, such as wind power, that also provide reliability benefits to the grid.

FERC’s five commissioners all voted to reject the Proposed Rule. While FERC’s legal obligations and internal policies strongly supported this outcome, the unanimous decision was still a notable accomplishment given that four of the five commissioners were appointed by President Trump. Commissioners LaFleur, Chatterjee, and Glick each issued concurring opinions that provided additional insight into the commissioners’ individual views and motivations for rejecting the proposal. More significantly, the concurrences revealed a fundamental divide between the concurring commissioners’ visions for the future of the U.S. energy system.

Perry's Proposal: Bail Out Uneconomical Power Plants

 Secretary Perry’s proposed rule directed FERC to issue new rules for the Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent System Operators (RTOs/ISOs) that oversee the competitive wholesale energy markets operating in certain regions of the United States. Under these new rules, RTOs/ISOs would be required to adopt new rates for electricity produced by coal and nuclear power plants that maintain a 90-day supply of fuel on-site. These rates were required to ensure that eligible coal and nuclear plants fully recovered all of their costs and earned an additional profit on their capital investments. Secretary Perry argued that these artificially inflated rates were necessary to prevent coal and nuclear plants from retiring prematurely. The preamble to the proposed rule asserted that such anti-competitive intervention was necessary because market rates fail to adequately compensate coal and nuclear plants for the reliability benefits they provide.

The Green Energy Institute’s Comments

In our comments opposing the proposed rule, GEI argued that Secretary Perry’s directive violated the Federal Power Act’s (FPA) mandate that all wholesale electricity rates must be “just and reasonable” and not unduly discriminatory or preferential. GEI argued that the proposed rule would give a limited pool of market participants—eligible coal and nuclear power plants—a competitive advantage over other market participants and would discriminate against other types of generating resources selling power into the market. GEI also argued that the Proposed Rule awarded preferential treatment to coal and nuclear power plants due to arbitrary reliability and resiliency attributes, yet refused to grant the same treatment to other resources, such as wind energy and demand response, that have been shown to support grid reliability and resiliency.

FERC’s Order Rejecting the Proposed Rule

FERC’s Order rejecting the Proposed Rule presented many of the same arguments that GEI had raised in our comments. Notably, FERC asserted that Secretary Perry had failed to show that existing market rates were not “just and reasonable” under the FPA and had failed to demonstrate that the proposed rate structure would comply with the FPA’s legal standards. FERC also argued that the proposed rule would grant undue preference to eligible coal and nuclear resources while denying the same rates to other resources with demonstrated reliability and resilience attributes.

In addition to identifying the Proposed Rule’s legal deficiencies under the FPA, FERC’s Order discussed some of the broader policy implications associated with the Secretary’s proposal. The Commission explained that the electricity sector has evolved significantly over the past fifty years, during which time many regions have shifted away from the traditional regulated monopoly structure of the early twentieth century in favor of competitive electricity markets. FERC emphasized its long-standing support for the creation and expansion of regional electricity markets and its “pro-market” approach to regulating electricity producers participating in competitive wholesale markets. The Commission acknowledged that competitive market pressures may force some uneconomical generating resources to retire earlier than anticipated, but it also recognized that emerging energy technologies, such as renewable energy and demand response resources, have a roll to play in the modern and evolving energy system of the twenty-first century.

While FERC’s Order expressly declined to comply with Secretary Perry’s rulemaking directive, it also stated that maintaining grid resiliency in the midst of the energy transition is one of its key priorities. To further this objective, FERC announced that it was initiating a new proceeding to evaluate grid resilience in competitive wholesale markets operated by RTOs/ISOs.

FERC’s Order carefully laid out the legal and policy justifications for refusing to comply with Secretary Perry’s Proposed Rule. While the Commission’s decision was unanimous, three commissioners chose to issue concurring opinions to emphasize their personal justifications for denying the Secretary’s request. These strongly worded concurrences provided additional insight into the commissioners’ diverse political views and motivations.

Commissioner LaFleur: FERC should “focus its efforts not on slowing the transition from the past but on easing the transition to the future.”

Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur issued a concurring opinion to reflect her view that FERC should focus on mitigating challenges associated with the energy transition, rather than impeding the evolution of the energy sector. LaFleur acknowledged that technological advancements within the energy sector are transforming the composition of the nation’s energy mix, but noted that this is not an unprecedented transition. The nation’s energy system has been evolving for more than a century, and markets and regulatory frameworks have continuously adapted to maintain reliability within the system. In contrast to Secretary Perry’s tenuous assertions in the Proposed Rule, LaFleur argued that competitive market forces should enable newer, more efficient technologies to replace older, outdated technologies; competition encourages the electricity system to adapt and weed out uneconomical resources that no longer provide a benefit to consumers. If aging coal and nuclear plants are unable to compete against new resources, FERC must accept that the older plants are no longer the most efficient, cost-effective generating resources. The Commission should not attempt to intervene and prop up these facilities by imposing anti-competitive mechanisms.

LaFleur recognized that rapid shifts in the resource mix could potentially impact grid reliability at some point and acknowledged that future resilience impacts could necessitate regulatory intervention. However, LaFleur argued that if this occurs, FERC should employ its traditional approach to addressing reliability challenges. The Commission’s tried-and-true approach focuses on identifying an objective need for action and developing an evidence-based solution to satisfy that need. LaFleur criticized the Secretary’s Proposed Rule for failing to conduct such an analysis. Instead, the Secretary “presumed a resilience need and proposed a far-reaching out-of-market approach to ‘solve’ it.” In doing so, Secretary Perry “sought to freeze yesterday’s resources in place indefinitely,” rather than identify an adaptable strategy to maintain reliability and resilience as the energy mix continues to evolve. In other words, the Proposed Rule fabricated a problem in order to implement a pre-determined “solution” designed to distort the market.

Commissioner Chatterjee: FERC should take action to protect grid resilience “amidst tremendous changes in our generation resource mix.”

Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s concurring opinion set a starkly different tone from Commissioner LaFleur’s concurrence. Chatterjee began by “applaud[ing] Secretary Perry’s bold leadership” in drawing attention to the “urgent challenge” of ensuring grid resiliency. According to Chatterjee, “rapid, unprecedented changes in our generation resource mix”—characterized by increased deployment of natural gas, wind, and solar energy resources and the retirement of coal and nuclear resources—could potentially create near-term resiliency challenges for the grid.

In Chatterjee’s opinion, increases in renewable energy generation and “the fast evolving national security threat environment” are somehow exposing coal and nuclear plant operators to a “spectrum” of fuel supply risks. (As an example of such fuel supply risks, Chatterjee cites the inability of natural gas generating resources to control risks associated with pipelines and gas wells. He does not provide an example of comparable risks facing coal and nuclear plants.) According to Chatterjee, because RTOs/ISOs are not required to mitigate these vague fuel supply risks, current market rates may not adequately compensate coal and nuclear plants that take action to mitigate their risk exposure. Therefore, Chatterjee argued that FERC should have instructed each RTO/ISO to provide additional compensation to coal and nuclear plants that are at near-term risk of retirement and require any RTO/ISO that declines to provide higher rates to “show cause” for its decision. 

Here is my interpretation of Chatterjee’s argument: 1) coal and nuclear plants require a constant supply of fuel; 2) fuel shipments can occasionally be disrupted due to shifts in the generation mix and undefined national security threats; 3) because RTOs/ISOs are not obligated to mitigate these supply disruptions, coal and nuclear plants incur additional expenses to safeguard their fuel deliveries; and 4) because renewable resources do not incur these extra costs, consumers should pay more for electricity produced by coal and nuclear plants.

While this proposed remedy seems to blatantly conflict with free-market principles, Chatterjee insisted that he shares FERC’s “preference for market-based solutions.” He therefore would encourage RTOs/ISOs to “identify market mechanisms” to address the unjust compensation discrepancy. However, Chatterjee also noted that certain circumstances justify other forms of regulatory intervention—such as providing additional out-of-market payments to certain resources—but that these mechanisms should only be used as a last resort. Chatterjee expressed his disappointment that FERC’s Order did not proactively address the compensation issue, but conceded that the Order represented “a positive step forward” in addressing grid reliability issues.

Commissioner Glick: The Proposed Rule aimed to subsidize uncompetitive facilities, not promote grid reliability and resilience. 

In the Order’s final concurring opinion, Commissioner Richard Glick quickly voiced his belief that Secretary Perry’s proposal was primarily designed to subsidize uncompetitive coal and nuclear plants, and any resiliency concerns the Secretary may have considered were secondary at best. Glick echoed Commissioner LaFleur’s assertion that efforts to promote resiliency must consider and adapt to the evolving energy sector, rather than aim to preserve the status quo.

Glick stated that the Proposed Rule had failed to identify a need “to interfere with the continued evolution of the bulk power system.” He noted that the Department of Energy’s own research concluded that coal and nuclear retirements have not threatened reliability or resiliency and found that increases in renewable energy, energy storage, and demand response have supported grid resiliency.

Moreover, Glick argued, Perry’s proposed solution—to give coal and nuclear plant owners billions of dollars to keep uneconomical facilities online—would do little, if anything, to improve resiliency within the system. Many of the Proposed Rule’s “eligible” coal and nuclear plants have experienced operating failures during extreme weather events. If Perry was truly concerned with protecting grid reliability, the Proposed Rule should have focused on improving regional transmission and distribution systems, which are responsible for “virtually all significant disruptions” on the grid.

Diverging Visions for the Future of the U.S. Energy System

The three concurring opinions reflected a fundamental divide in the FERC Commissioners’ views on the modernization of the U.S. energy system. The concurrences written by Commissioners LaFleur and Glick, the only Democrats on the Commission, promoted the energy transition as an opportunity to improve the bulk power system. Commissioner Chatterjee’s concurrence, on the other hand, presented the same fearful vision of the future reflected in Secretary Perry’s Proposed Rule. Chatterjee and Perry both appeared to view the energy transition as a threat to entrenched corporate interests and thus aim to impede or prevent modernization of the energy sector. These divergent visions for the future of the U.S. energy system are not confined to FERC. The energy transition has become a contentious political issue in the United States, and the divide between the parties’ opposing visions for the future has grown increasingly pronounced since the Trump Administration took office. In its recent Order, however, the Commissioners’ diverging visions for the future did not prevent FERC from reaching consensus on the need to avoid interfering with competitive market forces.

Commissioner LaFleur—the lone Obama appointee on the Commission—presented an optimistic vision of our energy future, a vision in which competitive forces spur technological and operational innovations that will enable the electricity sector to modernize without compromising reliability or resilience. Under LaFleur’s vision, regulators should help facilitate the energy transition by providing guidance and assistance to grid operators, and should only impose out-of-market controls where absolutely necessary to maintain reliability within the system.

Commissioner Glick—a Democrat appointed by President Trump—echoed LaFleur’s optimism regarding the energy transition, though he went a step further by recognizing climate change as an additional impetus for transitioning the energy sector away from coal power. From a reliability standpoint, Glick was adamant that reliability services should be compensated on a technologically neutral basis. However, he also emphasized the need to consider the advantages that emerging technologies may provide in supporting reliability and resilience.

Commissioner Chatterjee—a Republican Trump appointee and the former energy policy advisor to Senator Mitch McConnell—presented a decidedly less optimistic view for the future. Chatterjee viewed the diversification of the U.S. energy mix as a threat that must be preemptively confronted. He supported subsidizing uneconomical coal and nuclear plants based on his belief that market rates undercompensate these facilities. He asserted that regulatory intervention is likely justified to prevent these plants from retiring. In other words, Chatterjee advocated for a future that looks remarkably like the past.

These diverging visions have tremendous implications for the future of the U.S. energy system. For much of the twentieth century, the electricity sector relied on the same general technologies to produce electricity and deliver it to customers. Reliable delivery of low-cost electricity was (and still is) the industry’s primary objective, and innovation and technological advancement were secondary considerations at best. This dynamic has started to shift over the past few decades. Renewable energy technologies have advanced at a rapid pace and are now the least-cost resource in some areas. Energy storage technologies are quickly advancing as well. The way in which we manage and operate the grid has also evolved. So far, the energy transition has created jobs, reduced energy costs, and made the human and natural environments cleaner and safer for all Americans.

The Trump Administration is now actively trying to impede and reverse the progress and advancements the country has achieved in recent decades. At the behest of the fossil fuel industry leaders, the Administration has taken steps to weaken environmental regulations, open up public land to mining and drilling, and discourage renewable energy development. Trump has made it his mission to revive the energy system of fifty years ago, and his Energy Secretary is making a concerted effort to achieve this goal. 

Thankfully, FERC unanimously rejected Perry’s directive to bail out uncompetitive coal and nuclear plants. The Commission’s decision provided a welcome, if somewhat unexpected, reminder that the rule of law still governs in the executive branch. In such a divisive political climate, it is reassuring to see federal regulators set aside their political differences and support the interests of the American public, rather than political donors. Within an administration intent on de-modernizing the energy system, FERC has provided a loud and clear message: it will not be a pawn in the administration’s game.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

American Prosperity and the Role of Environmental Regulation: Part Two

By Natascha Smith, Energy Fellow

By Office of the President of the United States (https://twitter.com/VP/
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As we enter a new year, the Trump Administration has already taken steps to further erode environmental protections by opening up the continental shelf to oil and gas drilling. In considering the Trump Administration’s ongoing push to eliminate environmental protections, part one of this series looked at how the EPA and environmental regulations benefit the American people and economy. Part two explores why, given the benefits that environmental regulations provide, the Trump administration is pushing to eliminate crucial environmental protections, such as the Clean Power Plan.

Part II: the Trump Administration’s Push to Dismantle Federal Environmental Protections

After pulling the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, it’s no secret that addressing climate change is not on President Trump’s to-do list. Trump has consistently ignored findings and recommendations of the world’s top scientists, turned a blind eye to the climate impacts we’re already experiencing, and unapologetically defended polluting industries while demonizing people working to protect the environment. Despite the fact that environmental regulations provide tangible benefits to the economy, the Trump administration continues to cling to the belief that protecting rich and powerful business interests is more important than protecting Americans from catastrophic climate change. The question is, why?

It’s no wonder that politicians turn a blind eye to scientific evidence when corporations spend millions in anti-climate lobbying and opposing science-based policies. Many corporations, hoping to delay or deter policies and regulations addressing climate change, attempt to influence the way American leaders and the public view climate change by using the same three-pronged approach made popular by Big Tobacco. First, corporations exaggerate the uncertainty surrounding climate-change; second, they fund think tanks engaged in spreading false or misleading scientific reports; and third, they provide financial contributions to politicians who openly deny that climate change is occurring.

A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists evaluated the corporate influence of 28 major companies that chose to engage in climate policy through publicly commenting on EPA’s CO2 endangerment finding as well as making contributions to groups for or against state greenhouse gas reduction laws. The report showed that while each of these corporations claimed to be taking internal actions to reduce carbon emissions, half of those same companies “misrepresented some element of established climate science in their public communications.” If this seems like a mixed message, it is. Companies like Exxon Mobile are evenly affiliated with organizations that support climate science and organizations that misrepresent climate science. Exxon spends over $1,500,000 annually on political contributions; however, for every dollar it spends supporting efforts and politicians aiming to address climate change, it spends $10 on funding for efforts and politicians denying or misrepresenting climate change science.

Exxon certainly isn’t the only corporation guilty of trying to have things both ways. Investor-owned utilities have been aware of the dangers of climate change and the role that carbon dioxide emissions play as far back as 1968, when President Johnson’s science advisor addressed the annual convention of the Edison Electric Institute. In the 1970s and 1980s, more than 50 electric utilities came together to research the long-term effects of CO2 on the planet and the electricity sector. While they acknowledged that there was a consensus that manmade CO2 emissions were changing the climate, they also realized that reducing reliance on fossil fuels could have serious financial repercussions for the electric sector. So taking a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, the utilities decided to contest and undermine climate change science and spread misinformation to the public.

In 2016, more than a dozen state attorneys general announced they were commencing investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled the public about the risks of climate change. Despite efforts to rein in corporate attempts to disseminate inaccurate or misleading information, and aware of the threats their business practices present to the planet, major fossil fuel companies and special interest groups are still working to block efforts to reduce carbon pollution. It will likely take years to fully understand the effect of these corporate actions.

Given the urgency of global climate change, there simply is not time to wait for special interests and lobbying groups to share the full story. It is up to the public to support policies and representatives who will advocate for climate change regulation. It’s time for the voice of our citizens, concerned with the health of our people and planet, to drown out the voice of corporations, because the truth is that Trump is only listening to those speaking the loudest.

With corporations spending millions to influence the rollback of environmental regulations, we have a lot to lose. Part III of this series will examine the progress that has been made on rolling-back environmental regulations and what impacts can we anticipate if the Trump administration succeeds in significantly eliminating environmental protections. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Writing on the Wall for the Coal Industry: Wind Power is Displacing Coal in the Midwest

By Casille Systermans, Policy Extern

For over a century, coal served as an invaluable energy resource for the United States. The nation was arguably built on coal. However, time has shown that burning coal is dangerous for human health and the environment, and as a result the country has begun to move away from using coal as a primary fuel source. Coal plants across the country are being slated for shut down, often because they cannot make the upgrades necessary to meet current environmental standards and compete with abundant, cheap natural gas. In response to this shift, political battles over the future of coal production are raging across the United States.

The Trump administration is doing all that it can to “save” coal from the “war on coal.” In September, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that effectively aims to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. If the proposed rule were adopted, it would guarantee coal and nuclear plants full recovery of costs plus a fair rate of return in competitive energy markets across the country. However, the efforts of the DOE and the Trump administration are likely futile.

In the Midwest, coal plants are being slated for shut down because they can no longer compete wind energy.

Within a day of President Donald Trump announcing his intention to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Kansas City Power and Light Co. (KCP&L) announced its intention to retire three coal-fired power plants. KCP & L cited several reasons for their decision, including a commitment to clean energy and the fact that “[w]ind resources have become a much more economic generation resource for the region.”

In its 2017 IRP, Ameren Missouri, a Missouri utility that serves 1.2 million electric customers in central and eastern Missouri, including the greater St. Louis area, announced its intention to decrease carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 80% by 2050 (based on 2005 levels). To achieve this, Ameren Missouri will add at least 700 MW of wind generation by 2020 as well as 50 MW of solar generation by 2025. The IRP also includes plans to retire more than half of Ameren Missouri’s coal-fired generation capacity.

At the end of October, Empire District Electric Co., a Midwest Utility that serves 172,000 customers in southwest Missouri and parts of Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, submitted a proposal seeking approval to build 800 MW of wind generation and to shut down the coal-fired workhorse of its generation fleet, the Asbury Power Plant. Empire explained that the projected cost of acquiring new wind generation resources is lower than the costs associated with operating and maintaining the Asbury Power Plant.

Coal is swiftly losing the ability to compete with utility-scale wind and in most cases already cannot compete with natural gas. Therefore, fighting to keep coal viable by pushing the costs onto ratepayers is unproductive and serves only to delay the inevitable. Coal is on the way out, utilities in the Midwest and across the country are beginning to recognize this, and it is time for policy makers to recognize this reality as well. Policy makers should be looking forward to what comes next and work to enact policies that will protect the American people during the inevitable transition to cleaner energy sources.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Solar Tariff Case May Throw Shade on Growing Solar Industry: Part II

By Lev Blumenstein, Energy Fellow
Image by Tai Viinikka

Back in September, the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) unanimously found that domestic manufacturers of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) cells were harmed by imports of cheap solar panels. The  Commission recently delivered its findings and recommendations to President Donald J. Trump triggering sixty-day period for the President to act. Although the full report has not yet been made public, the Commission has released its recommended remedies.

Legal Framework for ITC Remedies

Under Section 201(a) of the Trade Act of 1974, the President may act to protect domestic industries from serious injury caused by large increases in imports of goods. The President is only to take such actions where the economic and social benefits outweigh the costs. Section 203(e) of the Act limits the initial duration of any imposed remedy to four years. The President may, at a later point, extend the duration of the remedies by up to an additional four years if certain conditions are met. The total duration of the imposed remedies cannot exceed eight years. Section 203(e) imposes other restrictions on potential remedies: they cannot be punitive; an imposed tariff cannot exceed 50% of the value of the goods; and imposed cap on imports should not exceed the average imports of the prior three years; and the remedy, if it is imposed for longer than one year, should be phased down annually.

Proposed Remedies

Although the four members of the Commission were not able to agree on a single set of remedies, they all agreed that a remedy should be imposed for the maximum four years and applied to a number of Free Trade Agreement countries, including Mexico and South Korea.
ITC Commissioners David S. Johanson and Irving A. Williamson proposed a 30% ad valorem tariff on imported CSPV modules. This tariff would decrease by five percentage points per year. Individual CSPV cells are treated differently. In the first year, the Commissioners would exempt the first gigawatt (GW) of imported cells from tariffs. Imported CSPV cells above the exemption would be subject to the same tariff as imported CSPV modules. The exemption amount for imported CSPV cells would increase by two hundred megawatts (MW) per year.

ITC Chairman Rhonda K. Schmidtlein’s recommendations were more stringent. For imported CSPV modules, she proposed a 35% ad valorem tariff that would step down one percentage point per year. Instead of allowing an amount of CSPV cells to be imported tariff-free, she proposed that the first five hundred MW of imported CSPV cells be subject to a 10% ad valorem tariff. CSPV cell imports above the five hundred MW quota would be subjected to a 30% ad valorem tariff. The below-the-quota tariff would decrease by one-half of a percentage point per year and the above-the-quota tariff would decrease by one percentage point per year. The Chairman also recommended that the remedy should be applied to imports from Canada.

The final proposal from ITC Commissioner Meredith M. Broadbent is the closest to the recommendations of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). As noted in an earlier blog post, SEIA opposed the trade case filed by Suniva and SolarWorld. The Commissioner proposed a combined quota of 8.9 GW for imported CSPV cells and modules. The quota would increase by 1.4 GW per year. Mexico would have its own quota of 0.72 GW in the first year. Mexico’s quota would increase by approximately 0.12 GW each year. The quotas would be administered by selling licenses to import the products. Commissioner Broadbent anticipated that licenses would cost one cent per watt. No, CSPV cells or modules could be imported into the United States from certain countries without a license. The Commissioner estimated that the sale of licenses would bring in at least $89 million in the first year. That amount would step up by at least $14 million in each subsequent year. These funds would be used to assist the domestic CSPV manufacturing industry.

Setting aside for a moment the wisdom of imposing any tariff, Commissioner Broadbent’s proposal is the least likely to distort the market for CSPV installations. Unlike the other two ITC recommendations, Commissioner Broadbent does not introduce a cliff at the end of the remedy period. A cliff would cause severe distortions at the end of the remedy period by incentivizing companies to hold back imports of products until the day after the remedy period expires. Furthermore, the combination of high tariffs and low quotas in the other two proposals would stifle the growing solar market at a critical juncture.

If President Trump decides to accept the ITC’s findings and impose tariffs, he should adopt Commissioner Broadbent’s proposal because it will adequately compensate domestic manufacturers while not egregiously distorting the market for CSPV.