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Heinrich Testifies Before U.S. Trade Representative On Tariffs That Would Harm Solar Industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, testified before the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to oppose raising tariffs on imported solar panels and modules. The USTR held a public hearing to help inform the decision of President Trump, who received a range of formal remedy recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on November 13 and must make a final determination in the case in January 2018.

Earlier this year, Senator Heinrich testified before the U.S. ITC and led a bipartisan letterwith Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) urging the ITC to not impose tariffs that would negatively affect the American solar industry as a whole.  The Albuquerque Journal published an op-ed today authored by Senator Heinrich outlining how solar tariffs would negatively impact the growing solar industry in New Mexico. 

Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

Good morning, and thank you for allowing me to testify this morning.

I’m Senator Martin Heinrich from New Mexico.

I am very concerned that imposing high tariffs or quotas on imported solar cells and panels would be a major setback to our nation’s efforts to transition to clean energy.

And trade barriers on solar panels would threaten thousands of good-paying jobs across the American solar industry.

It is important to remember that the production of solar panels is just a small piece of the solar industry as a whole.

Only a little more than one percent of the hundreds of thousands of American solar workers manufacture solar panels or modules.

Tariffs and quotas for solar panels may help a small number of domestic solar panel manufacturers.

But major price increases would threaten the rest of the entire American solar industry including the manufacturing jobs tied to racking, trackers, inverters, and electronics.

My home state of New Mexico has seen major job growth in the industry thanks to the rapidly declining cost of solar power. Investment in solar energy in New Mexico has surpassed 1.5 billion dollars. That is significant for a state of just over 2 million people.  

Nearly 3,000 New Mexico workers are employed in local companies that manufacture equipment, install residential rooftop solar, and build utility-scale solar installations.

We have seen a 54 percent growth in solar industry jobs in New Mexico in the last year alone.

And the important thing to understand as you are making your decision is that the vast majority of New Mexicans—and the vast majority of Americans—working in the solar industry are not working in jobs manufacturing solar panels. 

Much of the rest of the equipment used to install and distribute solar power is manufactured domestically.

Within solar manufacturing as a whole, approximately 20 times more American workers work for companies like New Mexico’s Unirac that manufacture other equipment used to produce solar power.

Those companies have warned that they may have to lay off employees if the United States imposes costly tariffs or quotas on imported panels. The same grim picture is true for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who work for local solar installation companies in communities across our nation.

It is estimated that more than 88,000 American solar jobs could be lost next year if the proposed tariffs are imposed.

In New Mexico alone, we stand to lose 1,545 jobs in 2020 if high tariffs are imposed on solar panels.

That would result in a loss of between 45 and 64 million dollars in wages for our state’s workers.

The large majority of job growth we’ve seen in the American solar industry over the last five years has been as a result of these jobs in installation.

Although panels can be manufactured anywhere, the labor to install them on rooftops or in larger utility-scale arrays must be done by local American workers.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of joining a crew of installers with New Mexico company SunPower by Positive Energy Solar as they installed rooftop solar on a home in Santa Fe.

They told me about the benefits of the booming growth of the solar industry and the great job opportunities.

If President Trump imposes high tariffs on imported solar panels, we might see prices effectively double.

We would be shooting ourselves in the foot by threatening to end the growth of a booming industry that is employing American workers in good-paying jobs.

Solar jobs are exactly the types of jobs that we should be encouraging if we are promoting a trade policy that puts American workers first.

Installers and solar equipment companies are almost entirely American-owned and operated, and they are critical to local economies.

As just one more example of what is at stake, the construction of the Chaves County Solar Energy Centers in Roswell, New Mexico created 300 jobs last year.

This rural community of just over 65,000 people is still working its way out of the recession. Without those solar construction jobs, the unemployment rate last year in Chaves County would have been almost 8 percent. 

Instead, the actual rate was 6.8 percent.

That is the difference you’re looking at in communities in my state, and across the nation, if we threaten the American solar industry as a whole.

I hope President Trump will look at the bigger picture of the American solar industry and its role as a major employer of American workers while making a decision in this case.

His decision has the potential to adversely impact hundreds of thousands of American workers, hundreds of locally-owned American companies and jeopardize billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country. 

I hope he will make the right choice for American workers.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify.