Newsletter: The energy policy Trump and Biden agree on

President Biden reversed numerous Trump-era energy policies, but he’s keeping one: solar tariffs.
By Julian Spector

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(Eric Prouzet/Unsplash)

President Biden reversed numerous Trump-era energy policies, but he’s keeping one: solar tariffs.

The Trump administration enacted tariffs on imported solar cells and modules back in 2018, causing a major kerfuffle in the industry. The policy made life harder for the many thousands of people who install solar panels — all in order to potentially protect the very few remaining U.S. manufacturers.

Several years later, the tariffs have failed to ignite a widespread U.S. solar manufacturing renaissance, though a few domestic factories did open in response.

The largest solar trade group and many large developers want the tariffs gone. But the Biden White House is defending its predecessor’s policy, for reasons that Emma Foehringer Merchant unpacks for Canary Media:

That choice underscores the complex balance Biden hopes to strike when it comes to clean energy policy: While the administration aspires to deploy enough renewable energy to run the U.S. on entirely carbon-free electricity, Biden also wants to increase the number of U.S. jobs and unionize those workers.

There’s a tension between moving as quickly and cheaply as possible to decarbonize the electric sector, and cleaning it up in a way that maximizes domestic economic opportunities (and, by extension, political buy-in).

Tariffs are just one instance of that tension, which will continue to shape energy policy discussions in Washington.

Speaking of who gets to benefit from solar power…

Also on the site today, Eric Wesoff profiles PosiGen’s efforts to bring solar savings to low-income communities often overlooked by mainstream installers. The company pairs home efficiency upgrades with rooftop solar to deliver more savings than solar alone.

  • Its premise is that even households with a low FICO score or high debt burden will save enough from the installation to pay back PosiGen every month. 
  • In the last decade, PosiGen installed over 17,000 systems, with over 75 percent located in low-income census tracts.
  • We spend less than anybody else to acquire a customer,” CEO Thomas Neyhart said, referring to the soft costs that challenge many solar installers. If you have a good value proposition, you shouldn’t be paying so much to acquire customers.”

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.