Months of intense lobbying from the solar and clean energy industry culminated on Monday in the Biden White House taking their biggest action on climate in recent months.
The administration moved to waive anti-circumvention tariffs on solar panels for two years and invoking the Defense Production Act to speed up domestic manufacturing of solar panel components, energy-efficient heat pumps, building insulation and transformers needed for the electric power grid.
The run-up to the announcement took months of an intense pressure campaign from an embattled solar industry and bipartisan governors and lawmakers alike. It eventually reached the top levels of the White House, including White House chief of staff Ron Klain and counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
The source of the solar industry’s panic was a Commerce Department investigation into whether these four countries – Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam – were skirting US trade laws, using components from China that should be subject to US tariffs. Because of potentially steep and retroactive tariffs that could be slapped on panels coming from these countries, the supply chain dried up quickly.
“The Commerce Department action – which is totally independent – created what we continued to hear was a crisis,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN on Tuesday.
The administration tried to walk a fine line between protecting the Commerce Department investigation and stopping further job losses in the solar industry. The sources familiar said that a wide variety of offices and departments were engaged in the effort, including the National Economic Council, White House Climate Office and Office of Legal Counsel.
“I think what took everyone by surprise, including the White House, was how quickly the industry came to a screeching halt,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told CNN. Data from SEIA showed 318 solar projects were delayed or cancelled in the last two months, which would have supported between 50,000-100,000 jobs.
Industry leaders and solar CEOs told CNN they were happy with the breadth of action taken by the administration, but some wished they had acted sooner.
“The industry is supportive that the administration acted quickly, but it still caused months of impact and delay,” George Hershman, CEO of utility solar contractor SOLV Energy, told CNN. “We have to recover from that; that’s going to take a little while.”