Home City OPINION: The environment can’t afford Trump’s solar tariff

OPINION: The environment can’t afford Trump’s solar tariff

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A tax will be charged to foreign solar manufacturers who want to sell in the United States. Opinion writer Sam smith says that’s a setback on solving pressing environmental concerns.

President Donald Trump has imposed a tariff on foreign-made photovoltaic — or solar — panels. The tariff aims to make American solar panel manufacturers more competitive internationally.

For four years, a tax will be charged to foreign solar manufacturers who want to sell in the United States. The tax starts at 30 percent, before tapering to 15 percent by its end.

Supporting American manufacturing on a global level is a noble initiative. However, the rush to convert our energy sources to renewable is much more important than our trade deals and GDP: It’s a matter of life and death.

At the local level, these tariffs can have a tangible effect. Athens City Council wants to encourage residents to use less electricity through a fee. Money collected through this fee would go to fund solar panel systems on buildings in Athens. However, this option may be reconsidered because of cost increases caused by the tariff, which would be a huge loss to Athens County. We need municipal initiatives like this to ensure necessary progress toward a healthier environment.

A representative of Dovetail Solar in Athens said the cost of photovoltaic systems should be expected to increase significantly. Given the average price of a basic system and expected cost increase rates, prices would likely increase by at least $1,300 to the buyer.

Currently, purchasing a photovoltaic system can greatly reduce the cost of electric bills for owners because owning a system provides one with their own means of electricity. After six-to-eight years, electric bill savings match the initial cost of the system itself, leading the owner to break-even on their initial investment. The time it takes a buyer to break-even is referred to as the “payback period”.

However, this newly imposed tariff may add one or two years to this already lengthy time. Investing in a photovoltaic system may seem even less attractive.

With only 18 years left until climate change becomes irreversible, it is imperative that people continue to purchase solar panel systems.

The systems reduce reliance on fossil fuels and materials that come from municipal and industrial wastes, as well as plants, because they convert sunlight into electricity. This process provides a renewable source of energy and is harmless to the environment.

In reality, 67 percent of our electricity in 2016 was generated from the combustion of fossil fuels. The issue is that byproducts of fossil fuels “have negative effects on the environment and human health.”

The tariff is even harmful from an economic viewpoint. By the end of this year, it could result in the loss of 48,000-to-63,000 jobs out of the 260,000 total in the American solar industry because fewer people will purchase systems from vendors and installers.

Although the industry will get back on track after these delays, it does not change the fact that delays exist. Waiting is something we cannot afford to do in this urgent situation. We need as many people as possible to install renewable energy sources.

Trump may be trying to protect American businesses, but if we do not take environmental issues seriously, there will be no businesses to protect in the first place.

The American photovoltaic industry does not need this tariff to survive. In fact, the tariff may even hurt it. People who are fervent about American products could still elect to buy American-made solar panels without the tariff present.

The health of our planet should be held high above the interests of commerce.

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