Bay Area industry reacts to Trump tariffs on imported solar panels

Tariffs are coming for the inexpensive, foreign-made solar panels that make up 90 percent of installations. 

President Donald Trump, in signing the order, said it's part of his pledge to put America first, but the solar industry isn't sold.

Trade groups say the move could cost tens of thousands of jobs, as installers will pay be forced to pay more for panels, and have no U.S. alternative to readily turn to.        

"I think there was a lot of relief when it wasn't as bad as people were thinking it was going to be," said Jeremie Schildt, senior engineer at Enphase Energy, a Petaluma-based company that produces solar components: inverters and batteries that convert the sunlight to electricity.  

"In this building, we are simulating a rooftop," explained Schildt, alongside racks of inverters, each being tested as if they were attached to a solar panel. 

After 12 years in business, Enphase on Tuesday launched its seventh generation inverter, a new model, with more power, but less bulk. 

"If you're installing them on a roof, weight matters, carrying fifty up a ladder, weight matters," explained Enphase Vice President JD Dillon. 

The product launch was generating more buzz among the 300 employees, than the tariff announcement in Washington. 

"Our companies will not be taken advantage of anymore, " declared Trump, as he imposed the 30 percent tariff, which will last four years, and drop to 15 percent by the fourth year. 

The levies come after U.S. manufacturers of both solar panels and washing machines filed complaints- and the Federal Trade Commission agreed- they had been unfairly undercut by foreign imports. 

"Our workers are going to have lots of really great jobs with products that are going to be made in the good old USA," Trump said.

Enphase Energy products are manufactured in China, but since they are not panels, they are not affected by the tariff, but the company could still a trickle-down effect. 
Higher-priced panels may cause consumers to cool to the idea of going solar. 

On a $30,000 job, it would add about $600.

"If people are less apt to buy because of the panels, then there may be a negative impact on us, there will be less demand," acknowledged, "but the real struggle will be the small operators, the company that does a dozen jobs a week, has a small crew, that person will have a tough time competing in the market." 

How the tariffs ripple through the industry, remains to be seen.

"The industry is not particularly thrilled, but we're not particularly sad either. It won't kill the industry by any stretch," said Dillon.