President Donald Trump imposed in January a four-year, 30 percent tariff on foreign-made solar panels that could affect retailers and the proposed community solar program in Athens. 

The decision was made following recommendations from the U.S. International Trade Commission, according to a report from The Associated Press. The tariff is intended to help U.S. solar manufacturers compete with foreign manufacturers. 

Robby Ryan, a representative from Dovetail Solar in Athens, said the tariff may only increase the cost of solar systems by 5 to 10 percent. It may also increase the payback period by one to two years, Ryan said. 

Athens-based solar manufacturing company Third Sun Solar criticized the president’s decision in a Facebook post from January.

“While this action may protect a few jobs at some small and uncompetitive US manufacturers, the impact on customer economics will ultimately result in slower growth of US solar deployment than we otherwise would have seen, with slower job creation in the racking, installation and other parts of the US solar ecosystem,” the post read. 

The tariff could also affect Athens City Council’s proposed opt-out Retail Solar Community Program. The community solar program is a proposed ballot issue that encourages energy customers in Athens to use less electricity through a carbon fee. The less electricity a consumer uses, the smaller the fee will be. The revenue from the carbon fee will contribute to a solar aggregation fund, which will pay for solar projects on public buildings around Athens, according to a previous Post report.

The program's purpose is to help accomplish the objectives in the Energy Action Plan — a component of the Athens City Sustainability Plan. The plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in residential energy consumed by 2020. It also calls for a 20 percent increase in energy consumption from renewable energy resources and a 20 percent increase in installed solar technology by 2020. 

Eddie Smith, executive director of the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council and Athens township trustee, proposed the program. 

“The tariff may make it more difficult to reach the 2020 Energy Action Plan’s goals,” Smith said. “If (there are) restrictions placed on where solar comes from, it would decrease the amount of solar options available and raise the cost of solar.”

Howard Crystal, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, criticized the tariff in a news release.

“This reckless decision will threaten tens of thousands of American jobs and hurt our climate,” Crystal said in the news release. “If Trump really wants to put America first, he should reduce our reliance on polluting energy sources that fuel climate change. Instead, this profoundly political move will make solar power more expensive for everyday Americans while propping up two failing, foreign-owned companies.” 

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