Dec 1 (Reuters) - U.S. trade officials on Thursday are expected to issue a preliminary decision on whether to impose tariffs on solar panels from four Southeast Asian nations, a move clean energy advocates argue would stall projects and harm progress in combatting climate change.
The Commerce Department's finding will mark the latest development in a longstanding effort by U.S. solar panel producers to stem the flow of cheap Asian goods that they argue make their products uncompetitive.
But even if the agency decides the tariffs are warranted, the levies would not take effect for two years thanks to a moratorium imposed by President Joe Biden earlier this year after solar companies said the mere threat of tariffs was freezing projects nationwide.
The waiver is meant to allow U.S. manufacturing time to ramp up, the White House said.
Biden has a goal of weaning the U.S. electricity sector off of fossil fuels by 2035, a target that could propel solar to supply up to 40% of the nation's power needs, up from 3% today.
The determination by Commerce follows an eight month probe into whether Chinese solar panel makers shifted production to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to avoid paying U.S. duties on solar goods made in China that have been in place for a decade. The four countries account for about 80% of U.S. panel supplies.
A final decision is expected in May.
Auxin Solar, a small U.S. solar panel maker, requested the investigation in February, drawing fierce opposition from solar project developers who rely on cheap imports to keep costs low.
"This is a meritless case that could lock up the vast majority of imports coming into the United States," Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a call with reporters last month.
Auxin would not comment ahead of the decision.
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