Combine solar power purchase agreements, the Department of Defense “Buy American” Act, a well-meaning but ill-informed Congress, and a solar industry in flux. Add a pinch of jingoism and shake well. What do you get?
A big hot mess.
Earlier this month, The Buy American Solar Amendment passed the Senate. Sponsored by Democratic Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and as reported on Udall’s website, the amendment is meant to close loopholes in the Buy American Act, part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.
The statement on the Senator’s website includes this passage:
The Department of Defense is required to comply with the Buy American Act and purchase American-made goods, including solar panels. In practice, however, the Buy American requirements often do not apply to solar projects at military facilities because third-party producers procure, install and maintain solar panels, financed by innovative long-term energy contracts with the department. Since the Department of Defense buys the power, and not necessarily the solar panels, a loophole in Buy American requirements has emerged where the military can purchase power from producers who do not use Buy American compliant panels.
The Buy American Solar Amendment will close this loophole and create a level playing field for U.S. solar manufacturers.
The “American” solar manufacturers listed as supporters of the Act include: Sharp Electronics (Japanese), Schott North America (German), Sanyo North America (Japanese), Solar World Industries America (German), Suniva (American), Konarka Technologies (American), Kyocera Solar (Japanese), and United Solar Ovonic (American). Of the three actual American companies, United Solar Ovonic is on its last legs, Konarka is efficiency-challenged, and Suniva is still ramping up to scale. The other “American” firms do not have a U.S. manufacturing presence. Note that the actual American solar firms First Solar and SunPower are not listed as supporters.