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What do we really want?

Feb 1, 2018 4:00 AM

While I (and my Republican neighbor) intentionally bought American-made solar panels, I believe the new Trump tariffs on solar panels are irrelevant at best. The tariffs offer little for the future of American solar manufacturers, but hurt American solar installers (thus helping the fossil fuel industry). These random, arbitrary tariffs do not establish a balanced trade policy and will be challenged by other countries.

According to Varun Sivaram from the Council on Foreign Relations, while the tariffs will hurt America's solar industry, "New solar technologies have recently made astounding strides in the laboratory. A front-runner, a material known as perovskite could be printed in dirt-cheap rolls and achieve far higher efficiencies than today's solar panels. The Trump administration should redouble government investment in solar research to seed the pipeline with breakthrough technologies and should also provide facilities and funding to support American companies ... ."

Sivaram's ideas could certainly be a step in the right direction. However, we know the Trump administration has no interest in actually helping the U.S. solar industry. We need to be discussing policies for the future, for when this administration is gone.

A serious desire to balance trade and bring jobs and a greater tax base back to the U.S. could be achieved through a clear balanced trade policy such as Warren Buffett's conception of a chit system, where exporters get chits and importers have to pay with chips, creating a market for balancing trade. (The U.S. might add to that market with added chits priced to balance trade over a given number of years.)

A carbon (pollution) fee and benefit program could work well with this trade policy, having border adjustments that recognize the pollution content of products, including solar panels. China's economy is subsidized by cheap coal energy pollution; 70 percent of China's electric energy comes from coal. Pollution costs need to be recognized in our markets. A carbon fee would provide rational support to our solar industries.

Trump administration policies are having an impact on the real world, but we need to step aside when discussing Trump policies and say, "OK, this is crap presented for an anti-environmental, con-artist narcissist. Now, what do we really want?"

Rogan Thompquist

Paso Robles