The tariffs announced Monday by President Trump on solar equipment made abroad have produced great skepticism as to how much, if at all, they could help manufacturers in the United States.
What those tariffs will not do is increase the cost or alter the scope of the planned community solar farm projects in Independence.
Lee's Summit-based MC Power, which constructed the 3-megawatt solar farm on Bundschu Road and will do the upcoming expansion there as well as the 4.5-megawatt farm at the former Rockwood Golf Club, said its costs and equipment already are secured.
“They will have no effect on the projects that we already have under contract,” said Loren Williamson, senior vice president of project development at MC Power. “All of the equipment and design has already been put in place.
The city of Independence last November purchased Rockwood's 94 acres for $985,000 and announced the solar farms plans for there. MC Power made a $500,000 up-front lease payment for the solar farm area.
Andy Boatright, deputy director of Independence Power & Light, said MC Power confirmed to him there will be no cost increase. Consequently, Boatright said, the solar projects will have “no impact whatsoever” on electric rates.
The tariffs start at 30 percent and fall to 15 percent by the fourth year, and in each of the first four years the first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells will be exempt from the tariff. A large portion of solar panels are produced overseas, and at cheaper prices than in the U.S.
Williamson said MC Power has dealt with a couple dozen manufacturers of “Tier 1” solar cells – most of them Asian manufacturers, as few American companies have been able to keep up with demand, he said. The steel racking for those panels is produced in the U.S., he said.
“Our supply chain has done a good job of creating efficiencies,” he said. “When we're ready for a project and are developing and designing, we have choices of reputable suppliers. We're not necessarily locked into one manufacturer.”
Williamson said his company had anticipated possible tariffs and has been trying to account for them in preparing for projects.
“Every project we do try to find an efficiency to offset the cost to the customer,” he said.
In a release Monday criticizing the tariffs, the Solar Energy Industries Association said the tariffs could cause about 23,000 lost jobs in the solar industry, which employs about 260,000 people. The trade association said there are about 38,000 solar manufacturing jobs in the U.S., but only about 2,000 make solar cells and panels – the others making the metal racking systems, inverters, machines that track the sun to improve output and other electrical products.
Williamson said any cost increase in solar projects will be more likely to come with individual rooftop or home property panels than with large utility projects like Independence's solar farm.
“There's efficiency in scale,” he said. “Whenever we're negotiating larger-scale projects, there's always considerations we take.”
Boatright said he could only speculate about how the tariffs could affect rooftop solar, noting that the cost has been coming down over time.
“I would think installers are going to find lowest-cost commodity,” he said. “My guess is it would create some increase.”