Solar and tariffs for all: Recapping the Biden administration’s busy Earth Month

Joe Biden Earth Month solar for all tariffs
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at an Earth Day event, April 22, 2024, at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Earth Month has been full of solarized news from the White House. First and foremost, President Joe Biden announced $7 billion in federal grants for the Solar For All program. In addition, the Biden administration announced a host of clean energy manufacturing investments, while Reuters has reported that the White House is expected to reverse tariff exemptions on bifacial solar panels. Let’s break it down.

$7 billion for Solar For All

During an Earth Day event at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, Biden announced $7 billion in funding through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solar for All grant competition. This program is a key component of the Inflation Reduction Act’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. Selectees under the Solar for All program will serve every state and territory in the United States and deliver residential solar power to more than 900,000 households in low-income and disadvantaged communities, saving overburdened households more than $350 million in electricity costs annually – approximately $400 per household.
 
The selectees will provide funds to states, territories, Tribes, municipalities and nonprofits across the country to develop long-lasting solar programs that enable low-income and disadvantaged communities to deploy and benefit from distributed residential solar. For example, The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) announced that they will partner to administer a $156 million program to expand the use of renewable solar energy in traditionally underserved Ohio communities. 

In total, solar projects funded by this program will create nearly 200,000 jobs. The program also advances the President’s Justice40 Initiative, which set a goal that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal climate, clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing, and other investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.   

“This new Solar for All program means that 900,000 households will have solar on their rooftops for the first time and soon,” Biden said. “Millions of families will save over $400 a year on utility bills. And that’s $350 million nationwide. My dad said it matters what’s there at the end of the paycheck.  But a month is out, do you have anything left?”

Lifting tariff exemption

Reuters reported on April 17 that the Biden administration is expected to grant a request by South Korea’s Hanwha Qcells to reverse a two-year-old trade exemption that has allowed imports of bifacial solar panels from China and other countries to avoid tariffs.

Many U.S. solar manufacturers welcomed the news because duties on bifacial solar panel imports, the primary technology for utility-scale solar projects, would benefit the more than 40 solar equipment factories planned since Biden signed the IRA into law in 2022.

The Qcells request, which had not previously been reported, comes as the company is seeking to protect a pledged $2.5 billion expansion of its U.S. solar manufacturing supply chain — from polysilicon to finished panels — against competition from lower cost Asian-made products.

The solar division of Hanwha Corp. outlined the request in a formal petition to the U.S. Trade Representative on Feb. 23. It included letters of support from seven other companies that have invested heavily in U.S. solar factories.

Reuters reported that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, led by the two Democrats from Georgia, asked Biden earlier this year to strengthen tariffs on Chinese solar panels. Qcells, which has two factories in Georgia, is the largest U.S. producer of silicon-based solar products.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) lobbied for the bifacial exemption in the past. In a statement, Reuters reported that the SEIA did not address the exemption directly but advocated for an increase in the amount of solar cells that can be imported tariff-free to help companies assembling American-made panels.

“We hope the Administration is prepared to directly support increased domestic manufacturing of solar modules by raising the tariff rate quota on cells,” said Stacy Ettinger, SEIA’s senior VP of supply chain and trade.

No decision has been made on the timeline of the expected reversal, Reuters reported.

New tariff rumors

Meanwhile, recent inquiries from ROTH Capital Partners “suggest new AD/CVD cases could be filed sometime likely after April 25,” wrote Philip Shen, Managing Director, Senior Research Analyst, in an Industry Note on April 4. “We expect the AD/CVDs to cover the four key Southeast Asian countries—Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. There is potential that India could be covered as well.”

Why after April 25? “The [Department of Commerce] recently put in place new AD/CVD regulations that apply to new petitions filed after April 25. … One new regulation may allow antidumping tariffs to be increased more, while another may open the door to go after third government subsidies,” according to the ROTH note.

[UPDATE: It turns out those rumors were true. Read the latest on AD/CVD tariffs.]

Solar permitting milestone on federal land

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a series of milestones and actions on April 11 to promote clean energy development on public lands. The biggest achievement is the permitting approval of more than 25 GW of clean energy projects — well ahead of the 2025 deadline.

The milestone will help achieve Biden’s goal of creating a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. The projects permitted include solar, wind and geothermal projects, as well as gen-tie lines on public lands that are essential for connecting clean electricity projects on both federal and non-federal land to the grid.

“Since Day One, the Biden-Harris administration has worked tirelessly to expand responsible clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America’s energy security and create good-paying union jobs. Surpassing our goal of permitting 25 GW of clean energy by 2025 underscores the significant progress we have made in helping build modern, resilient climate infrastructure that protects our communities from the worsening impacts of climate change,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “The Interior Department will continue to advance projects that will add enough clean energy to the grid to power millions more homes and help ensure a livable planet for future generations.”

The Interior Department also announced a final Renewable Energy rule from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that will lower consumer energy costs and the cost of developing solar and wind projects, improve renewable energy project application processes, and incentivize developers to continue responsibly developing solar and wind projects on public lands. The final rule includes additional incentives for use of project labor agreements and American-made materials. 

“Our public lands are playing a critical role in the clean energy transition,” said Acting Deputy Secretary Laura Daniel-Davis. “Finalizing the Renewable Energy rule is a significant milestone that will allow the Interior Department to continue leading the way on renewable energy while furthering President Biden’s commitment to building a clean energy economy, tackling the climate crisis, protecting lands and waters, promoting American energy security, and creating jobs in communities across the country.”

In addition, the BLM announced that two solar projects — the Arica and Victory Pass projects in California — are now fully operational, adding 465 MW of clean electricity to the grid. With these two projects coming online, more than 10 GW of clean energy are currently being generated on public lands.

“Renewable energy projects like Arica and Victory Pass on public lands create good-paying jobs and are crucial in achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “Investing in clean and reliable renewable energy represents the BLM’s commitment to addressing climate change. BLM personnel are working tirelessly to efficiently review and approve projects, with significant and thoughtful engagement from states, Tribes and other partners, to ensure we supply families and communities with clean energy that will lower costs and help tackle climate change.” 

Clean energy manufacturing investments

The U.S. Department of Energy on April 19 released details for 35 projects across 20 states that voluntarily shared with DOE they received a total of $1.93 billion in allocations of the Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Credit (48C). 48C is an allocated tax credit funded by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda through the Inflation Reduction Act, aimed at accelerating clean energy manufacturing and recycling and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at industrial facilities.

These projects are addressing critical needs across the clean energy economy, including grid components (e.g., transformers), electric vehicle components and chargers, solar components, clean steel, critical materials processing and recycling, and other clean energy products. In order to receive the full 30% investment tax credit, projects receiving a 48C tax credit must meet prevailing wage and registered apprenticeship requirements.

The IRA expanded the 48C program to provide an additional credit allocation of $10 billion, with $4 billion set aside for projects in designated energy communities.

On March 29, the IRS allocated approximately $4 billion of 48C credits for more than 100 projects across 35 states, with approximately $1.5 billion allocated to projects in designated energy communities. As required by statute, the 48C(e) program can release the names of all organizations allocated a credit and the amount of that allocation only after projects are certified, a process that can take up to two years. In advance of that certification, as of April 18, 35 projects voluntarily self-disclosed information to DOE to share publicly.

One such project is Highland Materials Inc,, of Surgoinsville, Tennessee, which is located in an Energy Community, will initially produce 16,000 Metric Tons per year (MT/year) of solar grade polysilicon at less than standard cost and with a 90% reduction in carbon emissions.  At full capacity, it will produce 20,000 MT/year – the equivalent of 11 GW of solar cells. [Credit amount: $255.6 million]

Interconnection roadmap

The Biden administration is also seeking to cut down the time it takes to connect clean energy projects to grid. The DOE released a new roadmap outlining solutions to speed up the interconnection of clean energy onto the U.S. transmission grid and clear the existing backlog of solar, wind and battery projects planning to be built.

The Transmission Interconnection Roadmap, developed by DOE’s Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange (i2X), serves as a guide for transmission providers, interconnection customers, state agencies, federal regulators, transmission owners, load serving entities (LSEs), equipment manufacturers, consumer advocates, equity and energy justice communities, advocacy groups, consultants, and the research community, which includes DOE.

The roadmap sets aggressive success targets for interconnection improvement by 2030 and outlines tools that will improve the process for connecting more clean energy projects to a reliable grid, while helping achieve the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.  

“Clearing the backlog of nearly 12,000 solar, wind and storage projects waiting to connect to the grid is essential to deploying clean electricity to more Americans,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Through the i2X program, the Biden-Harris Administration is accelerating the interconnection process by ensuring all stakeholders have better access to data and improved standards and procedures as we seek to develop and maintain a more efficient, reliable and clean grid.” 

According to a report recently released by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, nearly 2,600 GW of generation and storage capacity are actively seeking grid interconnection, which represents an eight-fold increase since 2014. The high volume of projects and inadequate existing procedures for interconnection has led to uncertainties, delays, inequities, and added costs for developers, consumers, utilities and their regulators. 

The i2X roadmap provides a broad range of stakeholders such as transmission providers, state agencies, federal regulators, equipment manufacturers, and other actors with a set of 35 solutions organized around increasing data access, transparency, and security for interconnection; improving interconnection process and timeline; promoting economic efficiency in interconnection; and maintaining a reliable, resilient and secure grid.

DOE approves N.Y. energy rebates

The DOE on April 18 approved New York’s funding application for the IRA’s Home Energy Rebates and awarded the state an initial $158 million to implement its rebate program to help families save money on energy-efficient electric appliances. This is the first state to have its application approved and to receive funding under this program, which is part of Biden’s Investing in America agenda to lower home energy costs, tackle the climate crisis, and build a clean energy economy. As part of the program, tax credits of 30% are available for rooftop solar, battery storage, energy efficiency and electric upgrades, heat pumps, and other clean energy upgrades.

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