As Trump’s tariffs wound solar industry, South Carolina advocates call for state’s help

From The Post and Courier:

COLUMBIA — While new tariffs on solar panels are casting dark clouds on a rapidly growing industry around the country, proponents in South Carolina say sun-based energy development can continue to shine in the Palmetto State if lawmakers can clear hurdles standing in the way.

On Monday, President Donald Trump announced he would impose 30 percent tariffs on solar panel imports, casting the decision as a reaffirmation of his “America First” rhetoric to restrict Chinese manufacturers.

The move drew howls from American installers, who said it would jack up costs and risk thousands of jobs. Critics in South Carolina spanned the political spectrum.

“It’s really frustrating,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Chapin. “We are supposed to be about growing business and growing jobs and keeping the economy moving, and the president goes out and throws out that tariff, which I believe is going to be a tremendous blow not just to South Carolina but to the whole country.”

But the collapse of a multibillion dollar nuclear project in Fairfield County already had solar advocates eyeing an opening in South Carolina. With the latest loss at the federal level, the solar industry has turned even more focus to state governments, especially in South Carolina, which employs an estimated 3,000 installers, sales staff and project planners.

In the wake of the decision, Ed Fenster, the co-founder of home solar panel company Sunrun, said he hopes “states with huge solar workforces, from South Carolina to California, will step up to overcome this federal headwind.”

Some environmentalists are skeptical that any action at the state level will be able to overcome the impact of the tariffs.

Eddy Moore, the energy and climate program director for the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League, said the tariffs would hurt not only a booming solar industry in the state and country but also a booming import business at the state ports, too.

“It’s particularly anti-South Carolina,” he said. “There’s no way the state can realistically counteract a major federal tax on solar jobs.”

But several key legislators are determined to try. A new energy caucus in the Legislature, led by Ballentine and Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, met for the first time this month with a major focus on encouraging solar development.

The timing of the nuclear project’s demise has sparked particular urgency for energy companies looking to fill the void.

“I think right now we need to take advantage of the opportunity that is presented to us,” Ballentine said. “Were it not for this fiasco I don’t believe the guys from solar or any other energy alternative would have a seat at the table.”

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