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GUEST COLUMN: Federal tariff on solar panels will slow growth

By: Todd Stewart and John Bringenberg
March 4, 2018 Updated: March 4, 2018 at 4:05 am
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Solar energy is one of America's fastest-growing industries and an important part of the Colorado economy, employing more than 6,700 Coloradans. Because of this economic promise, the federal government's recent decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels has been rightly criticized as a shortsighted move that will cost American jobs, increase prices for U.S. consumers, and hurt the short-term growth of the industry.

Raising prices on American businesses and consumers is not sound policy. But despite this counterproductive tariff, solar power will continue to grow because of its underlying business case, benefits to consumers and the environment, and continued technological advances. Right now, there is an opportunity for policymakers to embrace measures that expand access to solar power for Colorado homeowners and businesses, and help offset the federal interference in market-based pricing. One such policy is Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing.

PACE financing is a tool where a private PACE administrator provides home and business owners with 100 percent of the funds they need to make critical property improvements, like energy efficiency, heating and cooling, solar energy and water conservation. The property owner pays nothing up front, and then repays the cost of the improvements over a long period of time. By eliminating the initial cost barrier to these crucial property improvements, PACE makes it easier for property owners to reduce energy waste, lower their utility bills and generate their own clean energy.

At the end of last year, a Senate coalition led by U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced a bill to strengthen standards for PACE financing. Senator Bennet should be commended for his leadership and dedication to improving PACE, a policy that strengthens our economy and energy security, while protecting our shared environment. If passed and signed into law, Bennet's bill will ensure more American families can safely and effectively access one of the fastest-growing and most successful clean-energy financing options in history.

More than 170,000 Americans have already used PACE to improve their properties, and the resulting boom in construction has created more than 40,000 American jobs. During the lifetime of installed PACE projects, these improvements will conserve billions of gallons of water, prevent millions of tons of carbon emissions, and save consumers billions of dollars in utility bills. Under Senator Bennet's legislation, regulators will develop standards to ensure consumers are able to repay their PACE financing, similar to other forms of financing. Senator Bennet helped prevent the alternative: Mandating new regulations so burdensome they risked destroying the PACE industry altogether. Here in Colorado, PACE financing is currently only available to Colorado businesses, but hopefully Colorado homeowners will soon also be able to access residential PACE programs.

Colorado should embrace PACE for many reasons, among them job creation: PACE creates local jobs for skilled energy technicians and solar industry workers. With PACE, a home or business owner can get solar and energy-efficiency upgrades installed without paying anything upfront. This attractive financing option increases demand for solar, creating solar sales and installation jobs here in Colorado. By standing up for the solar and energy efficiency industries, elected leaders like Senator Bennet are helping consumers and prioritizing industries that create local jobs and protect the environment.

Of the 6,789 Coloradans working in the solar industry, more than 1,000 of those jobs were created just last year, and more can be created in the future. Within our state's borders, there are 322 solar companies, and approximately 10 percent of their employees are veterans. Colorado will benefit further as the solar industry expands, and PACE is a powerful catalyst to ensure that growth continues.

Moving forward, PACE will be able to create more jobs, leverage private financing to improve our neighborhoods and businesses, and help our cities and state achieve environmental goals.

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Todd Stewart is managing partner of Solar Power Financial and former member of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) Board of Directors; John Bringenberg served two terms as COSEIA board president and is a current member of COSEIA's Policy Committee and co-chair of the COSEIA | PACE Coalition.

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