Photo credit: Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/

Looking to support the American solar industry, the U.S. Commerce Department announced new tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels. The tax, which between 2.9 and 4.73 percent is relatively low, is in response to the Chinese government’s providing proportional subsidies to their manufacturers.  But despite the imposition of the tariffs, U.S. government support for domestic solar companies is waning.

Following a period of strong federal funding, government support for the green energy sector has been on the decline. (Thank you, Solyndra.) At the end of 2011, a program run by the Treasury Department, known as Section 1603, quietly expired despite its remarkable success.  This week, a Department of Energy analysis reported that the now defunct Section 1603 supported more than 23,000 solar and wind projects, created up to 75,000 jobs, and added as much as $44 billion to the economy.  The fate of those projects and employees, at this point, is unclear.

While the federal government’s support has been spotty, states have trying a variety of their own approaches towards solar power, and are finding varying degrees of success.  Those with friendly regulatory environments, like California and New Jersey, are becoming national leaders in solar panel usage.  Other states, meanwhile, are threatening the growth of the solar industry.  A bill in the Tennessee Senate, for example, is planning to raise taxes on solar panel installation by 6,000 percent.

Yet consumers and investors are still showing interest in solar power.  Last year, over 1,855 megawatts of new solar capacity was installed, more than double the total the amount of the year before.  Additionally, in November Merrill Lynch announced that it will finance SolarCity’s plan to build $1 billion of solar power projects for the Department of Defense.

With an obvious demand in the market, the solar industry needs better federal backing than a few tariffs.