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Tariffs in the Energy Market

Rob Gauchat in front of solar panels
Allissa Kline
October 5, 2018

It could be much worse for Solar Liberty Energy Systems Inc. in Amherst.

In late summer, the solar installation company faced the possibility of paying 30 percent more for each high-efficiency solar panel bought from SunPower Corp., a major manufacturer in San Jose, California.

But on Sept. 18, SunPower announced that some of its solar cells and modules would be excluded from solar panel tariffs levied by the Trump administration in January. That’s good news for customers such as Solar Liberty, whose executives were prepared to find new, cheaper suppliers.

According to Robert Gauchat, vice president of sales and marketing, “That would have been a pretty big hit for us,” he said. “We probably would have had to look at other options. I don’t know if the market would have accepted us passing that increase along.”

Solar Liberty was founded 15 years ago by brothers Adam and Nathan Rizzo.

Now the eighth-largest environmental services company in Western New York, the firm designs, manufactures and installs solar panels on residential, commercial and large-scale utilities projects.

Solar Liberty has 85 employees. Since its inception, the firm has completed more than 2,500 installations.

In July it was recognized by Solar Power World as the No. 1 solar contractor in New York.

While the company appears to be dodging solar panel tariffs in one area, Gauchat said it’s still dealing with them elsewhere.

For large installations, Solar Liberty tends to use standard efficiency panels, many of which come from China. Others are sourced from places such as Canada, Mexico and South Korea.

Costs for those products might be ticking upward, but at the same time there’s now an oversupply of panels in the market, in part because China curtailed solar installations in 2018.

That means the cost per panel is getting cheaper, which negates the impact of the tariffs, according to Gauchat.
Whatever happens, he said the company will find new suppliers if need be.

“We’re going to do what we have to do with regard to finding the best product and value for our customers,” he said.