Some N.H. Solar Installers Say Trump's New Tariff Is Bad For Business

Jan 24, 2018

Credit Julian- / Flickr Creative Commons

Some New Hampshire business owners say the Trump administration's new tax on imported solar panels will slow the growth of residential solar use in the Granite State.

The tariff starts at 30 percent and drops 5 percent in each of the next three years. It's not as severe as Trump could have imposed, and it’s meant to boost the American solar manufacturing industry.

That industry is relatively small right now, with no presence in New Hampshire. The Oregon- and Georgia-based manufacturers that asked for the tariff to help them compete with imports from places like China are both are owned by foreign corporations.

Erik Shifflett co-owns Bow-based Granite State Solar, the largest solar installer based in New Hampshire. He says they’ve tried buying American panels before, but found them to be lower-tech and less efficient for their price than foreign options, which cost hundreds of dollars each.

"No matter how we try and do the math, whatever panel we're going to be installing is going to be more expensive in the future than it is now,” he says.

Shifflett says his main customers are middle-class homeowners looking to offset their energy bills with solar net metering. His company's typical rooftop array costs around $25,000, which he says can pay for itself in under a decade.

He estimates the tariff will add a thousand dollars to that price tag, and a year to its payoff time. For some customers, he says solar will still be worth it. But:

“It's just that somebody who has a roof that may not be ideal, where their [return on investment] might have been 10 or 11 years because their productivity is a little bit lower, [the added cost from the tariff] is going to push that person out of the buying mindset,” Shifflett says.

He fears this will hurt solar adoption and the installation industry in New Hampshire just as they're starting to grow.

"The timing is not good for New Hampshire,” he says. “I expect we will see a reduction of the number of companies in this industry."

ReVision Energy, the largest solar installer in New Hampshire, told state legislators this week to mitigate the tariff's effects by making solar more cost-effective in other ways.

The Maine-based company testified in favor of two bills to expand New Hampshire's net metering limits, which pay customers for putting their own solar energy back into the grid. 

"At the end of the day, the clean energy train has left the station," ReVision director of market development Dan Weeks told the Senate Energy Committee, according to a statement. "Even the president's actions – while costly for American workers and consumers – cannot stop the inevitable transition from polluting fossil fuels to a renewable energy economy." 

Shifflett says companies like his and ReVision are big enough to survive the tariff's implementation, but not everyone will be so lucky. The state's solar industry currently supports at least a thousand jobs and at least two dozen small New Hampshire-based companies.