The president’s recent decision to impose tariffs on imported solar cells and modules is the latest political speed bump on the consumer’s way towards energy independence. While this decision was seemingly focused on supporting solar panel manufacturing, the artificial increase in prices will do more harm than good to the downstream sectors of the industry, including installers and U.S.-based manufacturing of other system components, like racking and electrical materials. Instead of supporting an industry that has shown explosive growth by adding jobs at 12 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016, the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates this decision may cost the solar industry 23,000 jobs. Even in the face of strong bipartisan opposition to the tariffs, the president added to a string of policy decisions that continue to impede the growth of the solar industry.
This decision harms an industry that provides well-paying, local jobs. Here in Montana, solar installer businesses are small businesses hiring a local workforce. These are the types of jobs we should be protecting. And yet, at both the federal and the state level we continue to face uncertainty in the political landscape that affects our ability to plan for the future. Here in Montana, we continue to work against outdated net metering policies that restrict consumers from installing solar systems that fit their needs. The 50 kW restriction for net metering systems is preventing our schools and business owners from maximizing their solar potential. The restriction on aggregate net metering is hindering the ability of farmers and ranchers to install solar that will efficiently power their homes, irrigation systems, and workshops. And the list goes on.
But the Montana solar industry is resilient. Despite these political speed bumps, despite the restrictive net metering policies here in Montana, the solar industry carries forward. In 2017, Montana saw its first utility scale solar farms, adding 17 MW of solar capacity in a single year. Meanwhile, homeowners, business owners, and schools continue to look to solar energy as a way to take control of their energy costs, support local businesses, and move themselves toward energy independence.
Montanans have demonstrated their support for solar. Though some of our elected officials may ignore them, we in the industry will answer their call.
Henry Dykema is owner and operator of Sundance Solar Systems in Red Lodge. Orion Thorton is co-founder and co-operator of OnSite Energy in Bozeman.