In April, the American solar manufacturer Suniva filed a petition under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, asking the U.S. International Trade Commission for new tariffs on solar cells and the establishment of a minimum price for solar modules imported into the United States. Last month, the commission announced it was proceeding with an investigation into the issue. But if the Trump administration grants these tariffs and minimum prices, it will have created an irony: an extraordinary intervention into the marketplace that could devastate, not protect, a thriving domestic industry.
The market for solar power in the United States is growing smartly these days: rapid advances in the efficacy of solar panels have led to a market where solar power can potentially be cost-effective for tens of millions of homeowners. As a result, there is now a robust industry for installing solar panels on houses, apartment buildings, and businesses, which employs hundreds of thousands of Americans. Today, in fact, over half of the quarter-million workers employed in the solar industry in some way install solar panels. That's more people than are employed in the coal industry these days.