U.S. Solar Tariff Ruling Provides Much-Needed Certainty

By far the biggest development at the PV America West 2012 show here in San Jose today was the much-awaited announcement from the Commerce Dept. on the preliminary tariffs that they will impose on imported Chinese-made solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

A flurry of activity ensued when the ruling was announced shortly after noon, as show attendees – many of them carrying printouts of the news – rushed to share the details with their colleagues and customers.

Whichever side of this controversial issue you’re on, I believe this news is positive for the U.S. solar energy industry. Many potential customers have been waiting on the sidelines for this ruling since last fall, unwilling to proceed with projects until they knew how much their PV panels were going to cost. This ruling brings a new level of clarity and certainty to the market, and now the accumulated backlog of projects should begin to move forward.

Of course there is still some uncertainty left on the horizon with the anti-dumping decision coming in May and the review of this whole matter later this year but at least we have a set of ground rules to run with.

The Next Step

The next step, in my view, should be for the U.S. solar industry to come together to seek even more clarity and agreement on the regulatory issues that are constraining our growth. In particular, we should be working together to craft a more uniform national permitting process for solar installations.

In our experience, the cost of complying with multiple, inconsistent state standards increase the cost and complexity of all solar projects and effectively act as a tax on solar installations. This unnecessary waste of resources is choking our industry, but it could be solved if we had a strong, unified trade association lobbying for a single, standardized U.S. process for reviewing and approving solar projects.

I believe that we should follow the example of other industries by having a single voice on the range of complex industry issues. By unifying and simplifying these “soft” costs, the industry will be further reducing the cost of solar installations and making progress toward our goal of grid parity. 

The solar energy industry, like any other, thrives upon certainty and predictability. And while we may not yet be ready to agree on every contentious issue such as international subsidies and import tariffs, there’s absolutely no reason we can’t come together to speak as a single voice in support of uniform standards and processes for solar installations.

A veteran technology company executive with strong expertise in sales, marketing, company operations and M&A, Mr. Cutini was a member of eIQ Energy’s board of directors before being tapped in July 2011 to lead the company into a new stage of growth as president and CEO. From 2003 to 2009 he served as chairman, CEO and president of Aviza Technology, Inc., leading the semiconductor equipment company through a successful divestiture from parent company ASML Holding NV. Previously, he co-founded and was instrumental in the growth of OnTrak Systems, Inc., where he helped to raise $85 million from private investors and public and offerings. Mr. Cutini began his career as a U.S. Navy aviation electronics technician before working his way up from field service into marketing and then sales for Silicon Valley Group and Applied Materials. He has served on the boards of Aviza, OnTrak and many private companies, as well as the North American Advisory Board for the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) organization.

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Jerry Cutini was a board member of eIQ Energy before being appointed as its CEO in July 2011. From 2003-2009 he served as chairman, CEO, and president of semiconductor equipment company Aviza Technology Inc. (Click here for a podcast interview in which he and Oliver Janssen, former CEO and now "chief business officer," comment on their new roles and company strategy.)

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