Solar-panel investigation casting cloud over NM - Albuquerque Journal

Solar-panel investigation casting cloud over NM

Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil

In 2019 I voted for the Energy Transition Act (ETA), which will eventually lead to the closing of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station to advance New Mexico’s clean energy goals. The energy from San Juan will be replaced with the latest solar and energy storage technology, among other forms of cleaner energy production. However, four of the renewable energy projects – solar combined with storage – that will replace San Juan have been delayed by the worldwide supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And now the U.S. Department of Commerce has launched an investigation into the imports of the same solar panels that would be used in these projects.

Last year, imports from the four countries under investigation – Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia – made up 80% of U.S. solar panels. Moreover, 98% of worldwide solar panel production occurs overseas, so there is no way the U.S. domestic manufacturing sector can make up the difference – at least not in the near future. Not only that, but U.S.-made solar panels are sold out through 2025. I’m all for increasing U.S. manufacturing of solar panels, just not at the cost of canceling New Mexico’s renewable energy projects that were set to come online this year.

This Commerce investigation – which relies on a nearly 100-year-old law and was triggered at the request of one small California company – is threatening to impose steep tariffs on the solar panels that these projects had planned to use to replace San Juan. Because these tariffs would be applied retroactively, critical solar panel components from the four countries are no longer being shipped to the United States.

According to the American Clean Power Association, over 30,000 MW of American solar projects are being delayed and canceled. The California company that started this mess only has the capacity to produce 150 MW per year. Furthermore, the Commerce Department isn’t even set to make a preliminary decision until the end of August, with a final decision on this matter in January 2023. If the Commerce Department goes through with this process, it will stop solar construction and development in New Mexico and perhaps the rest of the country for at least the next three years.

And, to make matters worse, it will have the same impact on promising battery and other storage technologies because energy storage only makes economic sense when paired with solar.

I believe our climate goals in New Mexico can be achieved and that clean, renewable energy done correctly is the path forward for our state. I know that our climate goals cannot be reached without solar and energy storage projects. If this investigation does not end soon, I can’t help but question if the Biden administration really is as serious about investing in climate-change solutions as it has claimed in the past.

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