Federal pause on solar tariffs welcome news in the West

The stars were aligning for a surge in solar energy development in Montana and the Pacific Northwest before supply chain disruptions cast a shadow over the industry.

Interest in residential rooftop solar was picking up as more people started working from home during the pandemic. Utilities in Washington and Oregon were soliciting bids for large-scale solar projects as state deadlines to decarbonize neared.

Problem was, solar panels and hardware needed to harness the sun’s energy were becoming harder to access due to supply chain disruptions and the possible expansion of tariffs on imported solar equipment.

“Panels in the last year have been hard to come by, but so have inverters. There’s all these supply chain issues,” said Andrew Valainis, Montana Renewable Energy Association executive director.

It can take months to get materials, he said. In cases where the wait extends into next year, the size of the tax incentive available to homeowners is affected. The current tax credit for solar is 26%, but drops to 22% 2022. Adding to the increased demand is an interest in avoiding the sharply increasing costs of gasoline for vehicles and natural gas for electricity generation and home heating.

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