Solar developers pledge $6B for made-in-America panels

Several major US solar developers have announced a new coalition that will buy up to $6 billion in American-made panels, which could more than double the country’s panel-making capacity.

The new US consortium of solar buyers said yesterday it had opened a request for proposals from US manufacturers who could supply up to 7 gigawatts of solar panels per year, starting in 2024.

This amount greatly exceeds the 4.8 GW of panels produced last year in the United States, according to estimates by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And it’s probably greater than what President Joe Biden has sought to put online using the federal government’s purchasing power.

The move is the latest indication that U.S. solar installers are putting a renewed emphasis on sourcing their equipment domestically, even as industry alarm over access to Asian supplies has eased somewhat. .

Consortium members – AES Corp., Clearway Energy Group, Cypress Creek Renewables and DE Shaw Renewable Investments – said in a joint statement that they hoped to promote the relocation of panel production, which is largely done in Asia.

The RFP, they said, was aimed at “creating lasting resilience and alleviating the stresses facing the industry today”.

Craig Cornelius, CEO of Clearway Energy Group, called the announcement “just a step towards strengthening America’s solar supply chain.” He also urged Congress to “seize the moment” and create new incentives for American solar manufacturing — something that has repeatedly stalled as part of a broader climate package sought by the Biden administration.

“With legislation pending before Congress, policymakers can augment our domestic manufacturing workforce and restore our nation’s legacy as a manufacturing leader,” Cornelius said.

In the United States, about 24 GW of solar capacity was installed last year, according to industry estimates. Trade groups are trying to convince Congress to pass incentives that could boost U.S. panel-making capacity to 30 GW per year by 2025, according to manufacturers’ estimates. Last week, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said executives from about two dozen of its member companies had come to the Hill to try to generate support for a law (Daily O&MJune 16).

In a statement yesterday, SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper called the consortium’s formation a “clear signal that companies are ready to make significant investments in clean energy manufacturing if Congress passes supportive policies.

“Solar industry leaders are eager to invest in domestic manufacturing and strengthen the domestic supply chain, but they can’t do it without congressional support,” she added.

Pol Lezcano, solar analyst at BloombergNEF, said the consortium’s emergence may reflect a bet by major solar companies that federal policy will ultimately favor domestic manufacturers.

“This announcement indicates, in my view, that major US developers expect benefits from purchasing US-made modules in the future,” he wrote in an email to E&E News. “It also proves that US developers won’t care to get the cheapest module possible, as the overall economics of solar are expected to outperform other energy sources in many regions and utility demand. and business will continue to increase.”

Consortium members could also try to insure against import restrictions and supply chain uncertainties that may still exist for years to come, Lezcano added.

Earlier this month, Biden tried to dispel a major source of uncertainty over solar supplies, granting a precautionary two-year waiver on any tariffs on Southeast Asian imports that may result. an ongoing Commerce Department investigation (thread of energyJune 7). Solar developers called the step a “much needed reprieve” from a probe that had frozen plans for many new projects.

Biden simultaneously sought to meet government demand for U.S.-made panels, authorizing the Department of Energy to use Defense Production Act powers to increase manufacturing and announcing two federal strategies to buy more solar electricity produced with domestic equipment. A June 6 announcement from the White House estimated that the shares would bring about 10 GW of new solar panels online over the next 10 years.

But Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm later acknowledged that boosting production using the powers of the Defense Production Act would likely require additional funding from Congress – an admission that prompted critics to claim that the U.S. solar makers were unlikely to benefit from Biden’s actions.

“Now we know that President Biden’s so-called DPA plan is nothing more than a hypothesis that will not and cannot happen unless Congress allocates additional funding,” he said. -he adds. said Michael Stumo, CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, in a June 8 statement. The pro-national Stumo manufacturing group has been a strong supporter of Commerce’s investigation into new import tariffs, in line with its generally protectionist stance on trade with China.

In a June 15 letter to Biden, 20 House Republicans also criticized Biden’s preemptive tariff waiver as “shocking and irresponsible,” while alluding to another source of ongoing risk to foreign solar module supplies: allegations of forced labor in Chinese production lines, which led to seizures by US customs officials.

“As proponents of a comprehensive energy strategy, we cannot sit idly by while you decimate the future prospects of U.S. solar manufacturing in favor of giving China a free pass. to undermine corporate America with slave labor,” the signatories wrote. , which included members of the Republican-led Task Force on Energy, Climate and Conservation. This task force seeks to increase domestic production of carbon-free fossil fuels and energy (green wireJune 6).

“We ask that you step back and allow Commerce to conduct a legitimate investigation,” they added.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment from E&E News.

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security outlined its strategy to prevent the importation of solar equipment and other products made with forced labor, as required by a 2021 bipartisan law. Customs officers will identify and interdict goods from any grower located or buying from the Xinjiang region, where forced labor systems are said to be centered, according to the document. Polysilicon, a precursor material used in solar cells, will be considered a “high priority” sector for officials.

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