Buy Local, Except When You Shouldn’t

Here’s the problem – raising the price of solar cells in America could have a significant chilling effect on demand for solar panels in this country. That’s bad for two reasons.

I don’t drink lemonade. I like it, don’t get me wrong. I mean, who doesn’t? And it’s not as though I lack access to the stuff. Heck, I live in Atlanta, meaning Chick-fil-A lemonade (some of the best) is never more than a 20-minute drive away, no matter where I am. Rather, I don’t drink it because I try to avoid sugar-based drinks for health reasons.

There’s an exception though. I will drink lemonade if a kid on my street is selling it in his or her front yard. To me, no economic venture is more deserving of support than the neighborhood lemonade stand. It might be more American than apple pie, and it’s the pinnacle of supporting your local small business (even if the lemons come from California and the sugar from Florida).

Buying local is a principle that my wife and I try to support. For one, buying local minimizes the carbon emissions associated with the transport of the product you want. Further, it can keep dollars concentrated in your local community, improving the standard of living of your area.

As in most things though, there are always exceptions. And one exception for us is that we won’t be buying solar panels from Georgia any time soon.

That was my roundabout way of saying that I’m not thrilled with Suniva right now. Suniva is a solar cell manufacturer based in my fair city, and they unfortunately were faced with recent financial difficulties that led to filing bankruptcy. But that’s not why I’m mad.

I’m mad because, as a result of their financial struggles, they decided to petition the Federal government (specifically the U.S. International Trade Commission) for new tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. Let me explain (though feel free to read this article if you want more detail).

Suniva is a major American manufacturer of solar cells (the things that make solar panels work). For a variety of reasons, their cells are more expensive than many made outside the United States. That means when people in America buy solar panels and try to spend the least amount of money possible, they end up buying panels made outside of the country. Suniva wants the government to artificially raise the prices of foreign solar cells so that Americans are more likely to buy their American solar cells.

Here’s the problem – raising the price of solar cells in America could have a significant chilling effect on demand for solar panels in this country. That’s bad for two reasons. First, we would end up with less installed solar over the coming years, as some people who might ordinarily choose solar will consider it too expensive. As a result, we would have less energy generated from renewable sources.

Second, our country has benefitted tremendously from growth in solar in terms of job creation. In 2016, one out of every 50 newly created jobs in our country was due to the solar industry. Remember, when someone buys a solar panel in our country, regardless of where that panel is made, American solar installation jobs are supported. If higher domestic solar prices stall the growth of solar power in our country, many Americans will lose their jobs.

That’s why, in this case, I can’t support my local not-so-small solar company. Hopefully, Suniva’s requested tariffs won’t be implemented. In the meantime though, the American solar industry will be holding its breath.

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