U.S. solar panel maker SunPower Corp. is planning to ask for an exemption to the 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels that President Donald Trump approved Monday.
The company that manufactures most of its panels at factories in Asia and Mexico could hire more workers at its headquarters in San Jose, California, and invest in a “pilot” factory in San Jose if it’s excluded from import duties, SunPower Chief Executive Officer Tom Werner said in an interview Wednesday.
At the heart of SunPower’s argument for an exemption is the type of panel it makes—a high-efficiency model that has wires on its backside to maximize the space for electricity generation on its front side. According to Werner, the panel produces more power than any other in commercial production, allowing the manufacturer to sell it for a premium to competitors from China.
“We’re working on the next-generation technology at the pilot line and I’m ready to spend $20 million on that effort,” Werner said. “We can’t afford that with a tariff in place.”
Trump imposed the tariffs after two U.S. solar panel makers filed complaints last year that a deluge of equipment flooding in from Asia was making it difficult for American companies to compete. The idea behind the duties is to increase the cost of imported panels and level the playing field for domestic factories. While First Solar Inc., the biggest U.S. panel-maker, also makes equipment in Asia, it won an exemption from the tariffs because of the thin-film technology the company uses.
Most of the U.S. solar industry has blasted the tariffs, warning that they’ll eliminate tens of thousands of jobs and freeze billions of dollars of investments.