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This is Trump’s chance to tank the solar industry

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

If President Trump were honest about which industries are the biggest job-creation powerhouses, it wouldn’t be the sluggish coal industry. It’s solar. More than twice the size of the wind industry and roughly five times bigger than the coal industry, solar accounted for one in every 50 jobs created in 2016, according to an annual census by the Solar Foundation. But Trump will soon have the chance to cut off U.S. solar from the cheap foreign panels that have led to the industry’s booming success the past few years.

The U.S. International Trade Commission on Friday decided 4-0 that foreign imports of solar panels and cells have damaged the business of two domestic solar manufactures, Suniva and SolarWorld. Now that the ITC has found injury, it will likely suggest a price floor or tariffs. The decision on whether to regulate these imports will ultimately fall to Trump, and evidence suggests he’s likely to do it. “I would place the odds of the president agreeing to some type of remedy at 90 percent,” an anonymous Trump administration official told the news site Axios.

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Suniva has already proposed a price floor of 78 cents per watt and a tariff that would more than double the current panel costs. Solar Energy Industries Association President Abigail Ross Hopper’s statement Friday warned that such a proposal could hobble the industry.

“Analysts say Suniva’s remedy proposal will double the price of solar, destroy two-thirds of demand, erode billions of dollars in investment and unnecessarily force 88,000 Americans to lose their jobs in 2018,” Hopper said. “An improper remedy will devastate the burgeoning American solar economy and ultimately harm America’s manufacturers and 36,000 people currently engaged in solar manufacturing that don’t make cells and panels.”

And according to Greentech Media, a tariff on imported panels wouldn’t necessarily lead to more domestic manufacturing:

If President Trump approves a new trade remedy for “injury” from imported solar products, it will likely take effect in January 2018. The solar industry is then expected to file a complaint with the WTO — which is what opponents did when the American steel industry brought a Section 201 nearly 17 years ago. The WTO could take another two years to rule on the case. And if the Suniva/SolarWorld 201 petition is found to be in conflict with the WTO — like in the steel case — the WTO will reject it.

The problem is, this two-and-a-half-year period probably doesn’t provide enough runway to make a U.S. facility feasible. A company that invests considerable capital in a U.S. factory, only to find the country reopened to imports by the time it’s finished, would be at a disadvantage compared to others that don’t bother.

It’s not just environmentalists and advocacy groups that oppose stemming the flow of cheap imported panels. Most of the U.S. solar industry lined up against Suniva and SolarWorld, after seeing the costs of installed solar per watt decline dramatically the past 10 years. About 98 percent of the industry now relies on these imports, “with more than a third of them from China,” where production costs are cheaper, reports InsideClimate News. These cheaper costs have made solar competitive with fossil fuels, in some cases even outcompeting conventional sources. That’s what solar installers say is responsible for the boom in utility-scale solar plants and rooftop solar.

A number of conservative and industry-aligned groups like Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council also came out against tariffs on solar imports.

“The tariffs requested by Suniva and SolarWorld will make solar products and services in America more expensive and less competitive by removing inexpensive, often imported choices from other solar companies and their customers,” writes Heritage trade policy analyst Katie Tubb. If Trump does decide to crack down on the imported panels, it would be a rare instance of him flouting Heritage’s recommendations.

“This decision gives President Trump and his fossil fuel allies a blank check to crush the solar revolution that we are experiencing in the United States,” said Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a statement. “President Trump should not use this decision as an excuse to kill the solar industry under the guise of domestic manufacturing.”

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This is Trump’s chance to tank the solar industry

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5 Strategies to Choose the Right Solar Panel Installer

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As solar energy explodes in popularity, there are more solar installation crews mounting solar panels on rooftops and tinkering with home electrical panels. Having the right solar panel installer can really make or break the experience of going solar.

When improperly installed, roof leaks are one of the most common complaints from solar homeowners. By contrast, solar systems can be installed in ways that don’t void roof warranties and actually help protect the roof from the elements. I’ve seen homes where the solar panels protected the roof from hail damage and the panels remain unscathed.

The technical expertise, solar equipment quality and solar system warranties all vary widely by the installer. The good news is that there are many reputable solar installation companies across the country to choose from. Here are some things to look for when finding the winners.

Some solar panel installers are more experienced than others. Photo: Shutterstock

1. NABCEP-Certification Installer

The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners certifies energy installers, including solar PV technicians. The requirements include passing a written test and having a certain amount of solar installation field experience. Although certification doesn’t guarantee good workmanship, it does ensure a certain level of knowledge and experience. Ideally, your solar installation will be overseen by a NABCEP-certified professional or, even better, have a NABCEP-certified crew member on the job.

2. Good Company Reputation

When looking for a solar panel installer, find one with a successful track record. If you have friends and acquaintances with a solar system, find out if they were happy with their installer.

Online consumer reviews are another way to find out more about a company. Solar Reviews is a useful source of information on solar installers and equipment, based on consumer reviews.

It’s also good to find out if the solar installer outsources its labor. If so, the quality of the installation might be less predictable.

3. Ideal Solar Equipment Options

In most areas, there are at least two reputable solar companies to choose from. Getting multiple bids can improve the quality of the finished product and possibly the out-of-pocket cost. For example, some installers take a one-size-fits-all approach to solar system design, while another company might customize your installation based on your needs, goals and the property. If installing your solar system is more complicated, it is especially helpful to find an installer that customizes your solar system design by selecting the best equipment and installation approach.

For help comparing options, EnergySage is funded by the Department of Energy and provides a suite of online tools and resources that assist consumers in researching and shopping for solar. Another service, UnderstandSolar, links solar shoppers to top-rated solar installers for personalized solar estimates. Various installers commonly offer different technology options to their customers. Perhaps you are willing to splurge on some sleek solar panels because they have such a long warranty or you want an inverter with backup power supply when the grid is down. By speaking with different solar panel installers, you can familiarize yourself with the different equipment choices.

4. Comprehensive Solar System Warranty

Various solar equipment comes with different manufacturer warranties, and installers often guarantee their work as well. Because solar is a pretty hefty investment, it is wise to protect yourself with a warranty.

Workmanship warranties can vary widely between installers but often last between one to 10 years. The solar equipment has additional warranties that are provided by the manufacturer. Solar panels typically have an equipment guarantee for a certain length of time in addition to a power performance guarantee for energy production. Other components, such as the inverter, can have very short warranties of just a few years or ones that last 25 years. Make sure you are clear about warranties before signing a contract with a solar panel installer.

5. Turnaround Time

Because solar energy has exploded in popularity in recent years, many solar installers have jam-packed installation schedules for months. If you want a solar system installed soon, it is wise to ask what their schedule looks like before signing a contract.

Keep in mind that the timing of when the solar system is installed impacts the availability of the 30 percent federal tax credit. For example, if you install a solar system in February, you need to wait much longer to use the tax credit than if you installed the system in November.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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5 Strategies to Choose the Right Solar Panel Installer

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God help us, Donald Trump tried to dispense energy facts again.

And pretty much nobody is happy about it, except maybe Nestlé.

Since 2011, 23 national parks had ended the sale of plastic water bottles to cut down on trash and litter. Before the ban took effect at the Grand Canyon, for example, water bottles made up 20 percent of the park’s total waste. But on Aug. 16, the Trump administration ended the six-year-old policy that enabled the ban, welcoming plastic bottles back to the Grand Canyon, Zion, and other national parks.

Bottled water companies had lobbied against the Obama-era policy for years. Coincidentally, the National Park Service’s statement on the reversal echoes the industry’s arguments: “It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park.”

Lauren Derusha Florez, Corporate Accountability International* campaign director, is calling for park superintendents to resist. “We know that many of our parks want to do away with bottled water,” she wrote in a blog post. “Let’s make sure they know that we support them in that move, even if the current administration doesn’t.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Florez as the campaign director at the Sierra Club.

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God help us, Donald Trump tried to dispense energy facts again.

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Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

According to a new study from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, the current presidential administration has collected fewer civil penalties and filed fewer environmental enforcement suits against polluting companies than the Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations did at the same point in office.

The analysis assesses agreements made in the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement cases. For abuses under laws like the Clean Air Act, the Trump administration has collected just $12 million in civil penalties, a drop of 60 percent from the average of the other administrations. Trump’s EPA has lodged 26 environmental lawsuits compared to 31, 34, and 45 by Bush, Obama, and Clinton, respectively.

The marked decrease in enforcement likely has to do with the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. Since confirmed, administrator Scott Pruitt has systematically tried to knock out key environmental regulations, especially those created during Obama’s tenure.

The Project notes that its assessment is only of a six-month period, so future enforcement could catch Trump up to his predecessors. Or he’ll continue to look the other way.

“I’ve seen the pendulum swing,” said Bruce Buckheit, who worked in EPA enforcement under Clinton and then Bush, “but never as far as what appears to be going on today.”

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Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

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Tesla has a big new competitor vying to build the batteries of the future.

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Tesla has a big new competitor vying to build the batteries of the future.

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It’s ‘Energy Week.’ Here’s how Trump could convince America to care.

On Monday, 38 of the EPA’s research advisers found out that their terms, set to end in August, would not be renewed.

One of them is Elena Craft, a senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It creates a huge void in terms of scientific capacity,” Craft told Grist. “Systematically gutting these committees is essentially cutting off access to some of the greatest science advisers really in the world.”

The purge will leave 11 members on the Board of Scientific Counselors’ subcommittees. The latest move follows sweeping cuts to federal agencies in April. The empty seats on the EPA’s advisory board are expected to be filled with a more industry-friendly bunch.

Craft said that after the announcement, Robert Kavlock, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s research arm, told the advisers in a phone call that he expected the board to pay less attention to climate change.

The board of experts has counseled the EPA on its research programs for two decades. Last year, the board’s subcommittees recommended that the agency work on engaging with communities in its clean-air programs and investigate environmental risks from toxic chemicals. All this advice comes free of charge.

“For an agency that is slated to have its budget cut fairly significantly, cutting out all of the free labor and free help doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Craft said.

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It’s ‘Energy Week.’ Here’s how Trump could convince America to care.

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We broke down Trump’s baffling speech on the “solar wall.”

The nation’s largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy, just filed a lawsuit against the Last Week Tonight host over the show’s recent segment. Oliver had criticized the company’s CEO, Robert Murray, for acting carelessly toward miners’ safety.

Murray Energy’s complaint stated that the segment was a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of Murray by broadcasting “false, injurious, and defamatory comments.”

Oliver shouldn’t be too concerned, according to Ken White, a First Amendment litigator at Los Angeles firm, who told the Daily Beast that the complaint was “frivolous and vexatious.”

The lawsuit is hardly a shocking development. Before the show aired, Oliver received a cease-and-desist letter from the company. He noted that Murray has a history of filing defamation suits against news outlets (most recently, the New York Times).

Oliver said in the episode, “I know that you are probably going to sue me, but you know what, I stand by everything I said.”

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We broke down Trump’s baffling speech on the “solar wall.”

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The Great Lakes are already grimy. Trump wants to zero out cleanup funding.

Two years ago, a paper came out arguing that America could cheaply power itself on wind, water, and solar energy alone. It was a big deal. Policy makers began relying on the study. A nonprofit launched to make the vision a reality. Celebrities got on board. We named the lead author of the study, Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, one of our Grist 50.

Now that research is under scrutiny. On Monday, 21 scientists published a paper that pointed out unrealistic assumptions in Jacobson’s analysis. For instance, Jacobson’s analysis relies on the country’s dams releasing water “equivalent to about 100 times the flow of the Mississippi River” to meet electricity demand as solar power ramps down in the evening, one of the critique’s lead authors, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, told the New York Times.

Jacobson immediately fired back, calling his critics “nuclear and fossil fuel supporters” and implying the authors had sold out to industry. This is just wrong. These guys aren’t shills.

It’s essentially a family feud, a conflict between people who otherwise share the same goals. Jacobson’s team thinks we can make a clean break from fossil fuels with renewables alone. Those critiquing his study think we need to be weaned off, with the help of nuclear, biofuels, and carbon capture.

Grist intends to take a deeper look at this subject in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

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The Great Lakes are already grimy. Trump wants to zero out cleanup funding.

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An idea: Get a supermodel to tweet some climate policy at Trump.

Two years ago, a paper came out arguing that America could cheaply power itself on wind, water, and solar energy alone. It was a big deal. Policy makers began relying on the study. A nonprofit launched to make the vision a reality. Celebrities got on board. We named the lead author of the study, Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, one of our Grist 50.

Now that research is under scrutiny. On Monday, 21 scientists published a paper that pointed out unrealistic assumptions in Jacobson’s analysis. For instance, Jacobson’s analysis relies on the country’s dams releasing water “equivalent to about 100 times the flow of the Mississippi River” to meet electricity demand as solar power ramps down in the evening, one of the critique’s lead authors, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, told the New York Times.

Jacobson immediately fired back, calling his critics “nuclear and fossil fuel supporters” and implying the authors had sold out to industry. This is just wrong. These guys aren’t shills.

It’s essentially a family feud, a conflict between people who otherwise share the same goals. Jacobson’s team thinks we can make a clean break from fossil fuels with renewables alone. Those critiquing his study think we need to be weaned off, with the help of nuclear, biofuels, and carbon capture.

Grist intends to take a deeper look at this subject in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

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An idea: Get a supermodel to tweet some climate policy at Trump.

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Watch John Oliver call BS on Trump’s promises to coal miners.

Two years ago, a paper came out arguing that America could cheaply power itself on wind, water, and solar energy alone. It was a big deal. Policy makers began relying on the study. A nonprofit launched to make the vision a reality. Celebrities got on board. We named the lead author of the study, Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, one of our Grist 50.

Now that research is under scrutiny. On Monday, 21 scientists published a paper that pointed out unrealistic assumptions in Jacobson’s analysis. For instance, Jacobson’s analysis relies on the country’s dams releasing water “equivalent to about 100 times the flow of the Mississippi River” to meet electricity demand as solar power ramps down in the evening, one of the critique’s lead authors, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, told the New York Times.

Jacobson immediately fired back, calling his critics “nuclear and fossil fuel supporters” and implying the authors had sold out to industry. This is just wrong. These guys aren’t shills.

It’s essentially a family feud, a conflict between people who otherwise share the same goals. Jacobson’s team thinks we can make a clean break from fossil fuels with renewables alone. Those critiquing his study think we need to be weaned off, with the help of nuclear, biofuels, and carbon capture.

Grist intends to take a deeper look at this subject in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

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Watch John Oliver call BS on Trump’s promises to coal miners.

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