Solar developers are suspending construction as the looming threat of U.S. import tariffs has driven up prices and spurred hoarding, crimping panel supplies.
“We’ve had roughly $500 million worth of work that we’ve had to put on hold,” said Scott Canada, who oversees renewable energy projects for McCarthy Building Cos. of St. Louis. “The supply of panels has just evaporated as everybody is grabbing what they can.”
The disruptions date to about May, after bankrupt panel manufacturer Suniva Inc. filed a trade complaint asking for protection from cheap imports. As the case gained steam, developers rushed to stockpile every available panel. The case is currently before the U.S. International Trade Commission and may eventually reach the Oval Office, where President Donald Trump has the authority to impose tariffs.
The crunch is an abrupt reversal for the $29 billion U.S solar industry, which six months ago was awash in inexpensive panels. Developers say prices have swelled by about 40 percent in the past four months, making some projects uneconomical to build. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to have a supplier at all.
“If you don’t have panels lined up for ’17 than you aren’t going to get them,” said Laura Stern, president and co-founder of Nautilus Solar Energy LLC in Summit, New Jersey. “The market is really tight.”
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