Vice President Kamala Harris will head to Georgia on Thursday to announce that one of the nation’s leading solar companies will embark on the largest-ever community solar project to build 2.5 million panels that will power up to 140,000 homes in several states.
The endeavor from solar manufacturer Qcells, which is expanding its factory in Dalton, Georgia, is a result of billions of dollars in clean energy tax credits from Democrats’ tax-and-climate spending law known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
But Ms. Harris’ trip to the Peach State to tout the climate-friendly initiative, previewed to reporters by senior administration sources, comes with a fight against Congress looming in the background over Chinese solar tariffs.
President Biden issued an emergency tariff waiver last year until June 2024 for solar panels hailing from Southeast Asia, because Chinese companies had been moving production to those countries to get around previous trade sanctions.
The waiver came amid concerns that the domestic solar industry would collapse without a cheap foreign supply source that accounts for 80% of solar panels used in U.S. projects.
A bipartisan effort that’s splitting Democrats seeks to circumvent Mr. Biden and reimpose the tariffs in a bid to bolster domestic manufacturing and punish a foreign adversary.
The White House argues the way to help U.S. manufacturers is by allowing the Inflation Reduction Act spur new projects like that from Qcells while foreign supply fills in the demand gap.
A senior administration official insisted the White House is striking a balance between supporting domestic manufacturers and keeping up with solar energy demand.
“There is an existing set of tariffs around solar. They’re designed to level the playing field between folks who are manufacturing here in the United States, and folks who are manufacturing around the world,” the official said. “The president has been an incredible defender of U.S. workers in making sure they’re competing on a level playing field.”
Congress is set to hold votes on the legislation to reimpose the tariffs in the coming weeks through a privileged resolution that must be considered in both chambers and requires only a simple majority to pass.
Once completed, the Qcells solar project will generate 1.2 gigawatts, or enough power for 140,000 homes.
Qcells is owned by South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Solutions and also has plants in China, Malaysia and South Korea.
The company is partnering with Summit Ridge Energy, which owns and operates similar solar projects across the U.S. and will make the energy available to customers in Illinois, Maryland and Maine.
A second senior administration official noted that households and businesses who choose to use community solar as their source of electricity save an average of 10% on their energy bills.
“There’s a tremendous demand for these clean energy technologies to come online, and that’s propelled by the fact that they save the American people money,” the official said. “The demand is being driven in part by the economics and in part by now a 10-year production tax credit [and] investment tax credit to deploy these technologies.”
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