New tariffs will mean higher solar panel prices, but impact uncertain

A new solar farm installation in Urbana on Wednesday, January 24, 2018.  Solar panel...
A new solar farm installation in Urbana on Wednesday, January 24, 2018. Solar panel distributors say tariffs will impact panel prices soon but they aren't sure if it will slow projects. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)(KCRG)
Published: Jan. 24, 2018 at 5:06 PM CST
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Iowans interested in adding solar power to homes or businesses will soon have to pay a little more for solar panels. That’s after President Trump announced a 30 percent tariff this week on imported panels to protect U.S. manufacturers.

The tariffs on solar panels begin February 7th.

Solar panel distributors say it’s uncertain just how much higher panel prices will impact solar projects in eastern Iowa. Distributors say prices have dropped so much in recent years that the tariff is more like a step back rather than a big jolt. Buyers are likely to pay about what they were a year or two ago even after adding on the tariff.

Tyler Olson, president of SiteGen Solar, says companies were expecting some sort of tariff so the word went out to commercial customers to push up projects if they could to take advantage of savings now.

“I think five to ten percent is a good number (for the increase). It’ll probably add six months to a year to the payback. There is some effect. But I don’t think it will be enough to have a serious slowdown in solar here in Iowa,” Olson said.

Olson said many companies, including his, have stockpiled panels so the higher prices may not be reflected in bid prices for a few more months.

For utility-sized projects, the panel tariffs could mean an even bigger impact.

Alliant Energy just finished the state’s largest single-site solar farm in Dubuque last year. But the company doesn’t have any large solar projects planned soon. Corporate spokesperson Justin Foss says until the utility draws up new plans for a solar project, and gets bids, it’s really impossible to gauge the impact of the tariffs.

“As the price of panels goes up and down other prices fluctuate. Getting the land, integrating it into the grid. So we’ll just have to see where it goes,” he said.

As for rooftop panels, some industry groups say figure on spending an extra $600 or so for the typical home installation.