with Paulina Firozi

THE LIGHTBULB

Solar energy providers were among the first to be hit by President Trump's tariffs. Now the industry says it is one of the first to be feeling their negative economic effects of a burgeoning trade war with China.

The main industry association for U.S. solar companies is blaming a tariff Trump imposed on foreign-made solar panels for a recent slowdown in new construction of large solar arrays in the United States.

At the beginning of the year, Trump imposed a tariff of 30 percent on foreign solar panels, with the percentage gradually dropping after the first year over the next four years.

While a pair of U.S. panel manufactures had sought that protective measure from the Trump administration, most of the rest of the U.S. solar industry depends on panels made cheaply abroad, often in China. As a whole, the industry opposed the tariff, which they worried would dry up investment and lead to job losses for solar installers and engineers.

Both of those fears are being realized, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, which commissioned a report from the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie published Thursday.

Between July and September of this year, U.S. solar companies installed just 1.7 gigawatts of new generation in the United States. That is a decrease of 15 percent from the same three-month period the year before.

While growth in installations of solar panels on homes remained relatively flat, the solar tariff "took a toll" on the construction of utility-scale solar projects capable of producing power comparable to traditional power plants. For the first time since 2015, quarterly growth in such large-scale solar arrays fell below 1 gigawatt.

“As we look at the data and the timing, we think that it has to do with the tariffs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Since taking office, Trump and his deputies have tended to emphasize the development of more traditional fuel sources of electricity — such as coal, uranium and natural gas — through public-lands and policies that favor the extraction and use of those resources.

Nominally, the Trump administration has adopted an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, but tends not to give as much attention to solar power — at least publicly. Last year the administration, for example, opened two major solar power plants on Bureau of Land Management property in southern Nevada without issuing any accompanying news release

In his first move in what would become a broader trade war with China, Trump decided to levy a tariff on a nascent solar industry that President Barack Obama sought to nurse with tax breaks approved by Congress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector.

Even conservatives at the Heritage Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council and other right-leaning institutions in Washington objected to the Trump solar tariffs for tilting the scales in favor of one part of the energy sector over another.

In total, the U.S. solar industry expects there to be $8 billion in lost investments between 2017 and 2022 because of the tariffs, Hopper said. That translates to 9,000 jobs either lost or not added to the solar industry to date this year.

“In my world, it's a really significant decline,” she added.

Those third-quarter results put a damper on what otherwise was an excellent 2018 for the solar business. Solar businesses procured a record 8.5 gigawatts of power in the first half of the year. 

The U.S. solar sector is still growing despite the tariffs, which will be reviewed next year and expire after 2021. Wood Mackenzie projects solar installations to pick back up toward the final months of the year as the shock of the tariffs dissipates and delayed projects come online.

Other government policies — such as renewable energy mandates in states like California and solar tax credits from the federal government still on the books — are helping to sustain the expansion. So are declines in prices for solar panels driven by improved manufacturing year to year.

THERMOMETER

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN POLAND:

— Deadline looming: As a Friday deadline for a summary message on how to implement the Paris climate deal approaches, “negotiators remained deadlocked on the thorniest issues and appeared set for overtime,” the Associated Press reports.

“Diplomats and ministers had huddled behind closed doors, some overnight, weighing every word of the draft text covering issues such as how countries will count both their greenhouse gas emissions and their efforts to reduce them … Some observers predicted the talks would likely continue into Saturday in an effort to secure a deal this year and maintain confidence in the multistep global process.”  

— “The evidence is hard to miss”: Former secretary of state John F. Kerry urged people to act “on facts” and make an effort to combat the changing climate in a an op-ed for the New York Times. He lamented that “the collision of facts and alternative facts has hurt America’s efforts to confront this existential crisis.”

He wrote since the Trump administration announced it would pull out of the Paris climate deal, “those of us in the fight have worked to demonstrate that the American people are still in. But the test is not whether the nation’s cities and states can make up for Mr. Trump’s rejection of reality. They can. The test is whether the nations of the world will pull out of the mutual suicide pact that we’ve all passively joined through an inadequate response to this crisis.”

 — Meanwhile, a new divestment milestone: A coalition of environmental groups that track divestments released a report finding 1,000 groups have pulled their money out of fossil fuels, according to Gizmodo. “Together, these groups manage nearly $8 trillion worth of funds,” per the report. “The movement has grown by leaps and bounds since the Go Fossil Free campaign, the umbrella for the groups forcing the issue, began tracking divestment in 2012.”

POWER PLAYS

— Calls for probes into the dealings of Scott Pruitt and his deputies may never end: A pair of left-leaning watchdog groups, Democracy Forward and Restore Public Trust, asked for the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general to look into whether staffers broke anti-propaganda law when an aide to the former agency administrator discussed questions with "Fox & Friends" producers ahead of an interview, as reported by the Daily Beast last month.

— “Tidbits of hearsay and rumors:” Since Ryan Zinke took a job in the Trump administration, the interior secretary's tourism-dependent hometown of Whitefish, Mont. “has been inundated with calls and visits from national reporters, helping to create newfound political tensions and animosity toward Zinke,” E&E News reports

Zinke's spokeswoman did not appreciate the extra scrutiny. “There's no doubt you worked very hard to find tidbits of hearsay and rumors to support the sensational story you had already written in your head,” Heather Swift told E&E News by email.

— No vote on NOAA head by year's end: The president’s nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will not get a confirmation vote before the year’s end, leaving the “agency responsible for understanding and predicting changes in the earth’s climate without a Senate-confirmed leader for the longest period since it was created in 1970,” the New York Times reports.

Barry Myers, chief executive of the private forecasting firm AccuWeather, has been a controversial pick. Democrats and former NOAA administrators have expressed concerns about potential conflicts of interest as well as past efforts to curb free initiatives by the agency’s National Weather Service that overlap with AccuWeather services.

OIL CHECK
Three people were rescued Dec. 13 after they were trapped inside of an abandoned coal mine in West Virginia for five days. (Reuters)

— Three people rescued from West Virginia coal mine: The trio was rescued Wednesday after being trapped inside an abandoned coal mine for five days, The Post’s Antonia Noori Farzan reports.

Family members suggested the initial group of four (one person escaped from the mine on Monday) had gone in to salvage copper. “The four appear to have entered the mine early Saturday morning,” Noori writes. On Tuesday night, “the mine rescue team tried something different. Using large fans, they blasted fresh air inside the mine, while also using pumps to siphon out the standing water that kept getting in their way. By Wednesday morning, there was enough pure oxygen inside the mine to allow the rescuers to go in without their breathing apparatus.”

— “Speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues”: In another blow to the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a panel of three federal judges rejected a permit for the natural gas pipeline that’s meant to cross two national forests and the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, The Post’s Gregory S. Schneider reports.

In a 60-page decision, the panel quoted the 1971 Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax,” writing: “We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues,’…A thorough review of the record leads to the necessary conclusion that the Forest Service abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources.” The judges ordered the Forest Service to vacate and reconsider its pipeline permits.

— Meanwhile in Minnesota, regulators confirmed a decision to greenlight a route for Enbridge’s controversial $2.6 billion pipeline across the northern part of the state, the Star Tribune reports. The utility had voted last month not to reconsider a certificate of need for the pipeline. “Environmental groups and some American Indian bands are expected to appeal the certificate of need decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals next week,” per the report. “While the PUC is the prime regulatory authority over Line 3, Enbridge still needs several permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the state Department of Natural Resources. It also must receive water crossing permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

— Two found dead at Antarctic base: Two fire technicians working at the main U.S. research base in Antarctica died Wednesday in an accident at a building near McMurdo Station, the National Science Foundation said. The foundation said the workers were conducting routine maintenance on a fire-suppression system.

A helicopter pilot “found the two workers unconscious inside on the floor. One was dead at the scene; the other was flown to McMurdo’s medical clinic and was pronounced dead a short time later,” the New York Times reports. The accident is under investigation. “Researchers come to McMurdo to study subjects like the effects of climate change on ocean currents and glaciers, changes to marine ecosystems, and penguin biology and behavior," per the report.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Bipartisan Policy Center holds an event with the CEO of Occidental Petroleum on Friday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— What the finch?: U.S. Customs and Border Protection said federal agents stopped a passenger traveling from Guyana to New York over the weekend who was carrying 70 finches hidden in plastic hair rollers inside a duffel bag. “The passenger was barred from entering the United States but was able to withdraw his application for entry so that he may reapply to visit in the future, authorities said,” The Post’s Lindsey Bever reports. “Although there are penalties, including fines, for smuggling birds into the country, authorities said there were no further penalties in this case.”

U.S. customs officers at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport caught a traveler attempting to smuggle 70 live birds into the country on Dec. 8. (Reuters)