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This week, we dissect a clean energy dispute that’s turning Republicans and Democrats into unlikely allies against the Biden administration.

A Duke Energy solar project in Texas.
A Duke Energy solar project in Texas. Credit: Duke Energy / Creative Commons

The U.S. Senate voted last week to reverse the Biden administration’s pause on tariffs for solar equipment imports from some Southeast Asian countries, following an earlier House vote to do the same thing. Nine Democratic senators sided with Republicans to try to reestablish the tariffs, with the GOP arguing allegations of forced labor in China make the solar imports unethical.

President Biden has promised to veto the legislation and keep the solar imports tariff-free. It’s a decision that, on its face, seems off-brand for the “Buy American” president. After all, Biden has launched several initiatives to boost domestic clean energy manufacturing, including consumer tax credits and federal purchasing mandates for U.S.-made goods. 

But the domestic solar industry can’t function on American materials alone. In 2021, at least 80% of new solar panels installed in the U.S. were imported, and the majority came from the Southeast Asian countries that Biden spared from tariffs. Today, just one U.S. company makes rooftop solar panels with enough domestic materials to qualify for full federal tax credits.

And the U.S. solar industry is far from the only sector that’s struggling to meet the demand of the clean energy transition, meaning more party-splitting debates are likely on their way.

More clean energy news

🔋 Energy storage woes: As climate change drives more frequent blackouts, More Americans are installing generators and battery storage. But high prices still keep the vast majority from accessing backup power. (New York Times)

🔌 Training wheels for EVs: An analyst says plug-in hybrid vehicles act as “training wheels” for drivers wary of fully electric cars, and they’re becoming more popular. (Washington Post)

🏭 Carbon capture gets schooled: U.S. colleges and universities are playing an outsized role in seeking federal funding for direct air capture projects that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for storage. (E&E News)

🛢️ The Gulf’s oil well problem: Oil companies have left behind more than 14,000 potentially leaking wells in the Gulf of Mexico that could cost more than $30 billion to plug, researchers find. (New York Times)

⚡ Electrification trendsetters: New York approved the country’s first-ever statewide ban on fossil fuel heating in new residential and commercial buildings, set to take effect in 2026. (NPR)

💡 More power over your power: Frustrated with reliability issues and some utilities’ slow progress on emissions, more communities are considering forming local public power agencies so they can have more control over electricity procurement. (Inside Climate News)

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Kathryn brings her extensive editorial background to the Energy News Network team, where she oversees the early-morning production of ENN’s five email digest newsletters as well as distribution of ENN’s original journalism with other media outlets. From documenting chronic illness’ effect on college students to following the inner workings of Congress, Kathryn has built a broad experience in her more than five years working at major publications including The Week Magazine. Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism and information management and technology from Syracuse University.