Solar panel tariff may not affect Valley

ALAMOSA — On Monday President Trump approved a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels in an attempt to boost domestic manufacturers. Though the industry relies on foreign parts for roughly 80 percent of its inventory it is unlikely to hinder development in the San Luis Valley.

"I don't think this will affect us," said Alamosa County Land Use Administrator Rachel Baird, who is responsible for fielding solar farm development applications. "None of our projects are anywhere near large enough."

During the tariff's first year there will be a 30 percent tax on internationally made solar panels. That will drop to 25 percent in the second year and lower 5 percent each year afterwards before eventually phasing out after the tariff reaches 15 percent. It is lower than the 35 percent rate the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended in October.

According to Baird the San Luis Valley is currently home to five utility-scale solar farms with three more permitted for construction, all in Alamosa County. Those facilities generate a total of 136.7 megawatts—enough to conservatively power over 22,000 Colorado homes. Until Xcel adds a high-capacity transmission line to carry roughly 500 megawatts over Poncha Pass, however, that number is unlikely to increase.

A company's first 2.5 gigawatts of cells purchased annually would be exempt from the tariff. Last year Alamosa County Commissioners approved construction of Oakleaf Energy Partners' 12-acre, two-megawatt community-scale farm. Because that site is so small—1,000 megawatts make one gigawatt—it will likely never have to worry. That farm will sit next to the much larger First Solar project that's planned to be 255 acres and 30 megawatts.

First Solar, one of the largest solar companies in the country, produces their own panels domestically so they will not be affected. Likewise, the 49.5-megawatt and 19-megawatt farms owned by SunPower Corp are constructed with the company's own cells.

While Invernergy has produced over 17 gigawatts of power, it has taken 112 projects to reach that amount. That figure also includes watts made by wind and natural gas. In 2015 the company was permitted to construct a 480-acre and 75-megawatt farm in Alamosa County.

A representative from Korea Electric Power Corporation, which took over Congentrix's towering farm of 223 acres and 30 megawatts, said that the tariff wouldn't be an issue for them since their plant is not currently planning to expand. Even if the tariff existed during initial six construction years ago, Boeing made their specific cells in the U.S.

Avangrid Renewables operates a 320-acre, 30-megawatt farm and is planning to construct a 577-acre farm that produces 50 megawatts. The company could not be reached for comment.