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Trump Says Solar Tariff Decision Coming Soon, Stakes Huge for Industry

 U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would announce a decision soon on whether to slap tariffs on imported solar panels, and quipped that when countries dump subsidized panels in the United States, “Everybody goes out of business.” The solar industry is anxiously awaiting the decision, which will have wide-reaching implications for the sector. Domestic panel producers opposed to cheap imports would benefit from a tariff. But installers that have relied on the lower-cost hardware for their recent breakneck growth would suffer. In an interview with Reuters, Trump declined to say how he would land on the case — which was triggered last year by a domestic manufacturer’s trade grievance — but complained about the effect of imports on U.S. panel makers. “You know, they dump ’em — government-subsidized, lots of things happening — they dump the panels, then everybody goes out of business,” he said. Asked when the decision would be announced, he said: “Pretty soon. Honestly, pretty soon.” According to a process governed by the International Trade Commission, Trump has until Jan. 26 to make his decision. Bankrupt domestic panel producer Suniva triggered Trump’s consideration of tariffs last year when it filed a trade case arguing it could not compete with cheap imports. About 95 percent of the solar cells and panels sold in the United States are made abroad, with most coming from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to SPV Market Research. Suniva was later joined in the case by the U.S. arm of German manufacturer SolarWorld AG. In October, Trump received a range of options from members of the U.S. International Trade Commission to protect domestic producers, but he has broad leeway to come up with his own alternative or do nothing at all. Suniva is seeking strong measures. “A robust tariff will allow Suniva to restart its factories and rehire employees,” Suniva spokesman Mark Paustenbach said. Jobs at stake Only about 14 percent of the solar industry's 260,000 jobs are in manufacturing. The trade case has fueled anxiety among installers that make up most of the rest of the industry and rely on low-priced imports. The installation sector’s trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association, has campaigned against tariffs, saying they would drive up the price of solar and cripple demand, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs and ultimately hurting the manufacturers that sought them in the first place. “I’m staying optimistic that the business aspect of this will come through in the end,” said George Hershman, president of Swinerton Renewable Energy, a privately held firm that constructs large-scale solar projects. Hershman said Swinerton employed 2,000 full-time employees and up to 8,000 temporary workers, but added several of its projects had been placed on hold pending Trump's decision.  “If you add 50 percent to the cost of the job, it may not be economic,” Hershman said. Solaria Corp, a U.S. company that produces panels in both California and South Korea, also opposes tariffs, according to Chief Executive Suvi Sharma. The company said a recent $23million financing round took months longer than it should have partly because of investor jitters about the case. “The best thing would be to have this whole thing go away,” Sharma said.

Facebook Widens Probe Into Alleged Russian Meddling in Brexit

Facebook Inc said on Wednesday it would conduct a new, comprehensive search of its records for possible propaganda that Russian operatives may have spread during the run-up to Britain's 2016 referendum on EU membership. Some British lawmakers had complained that the world's largest social media network had done only a limited search for evidence that Russians manipulated the network and interfered with the referendum debate. Russia denies meddling in Britain's vote to exit the European Union, known as Brexit, or in the 2016 U.S. elections. Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google and YouTube have been under intense pressure in Europe and the United States to stop nations from using tech services to meddle in another country's elections, and to investigate when evidence of such meddling arises. Facebook's new search in Britain will require the company's security experts to go back and analyze historical data, Simon Milner, Facebook's UK policy director, wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Damian Collins, chair of the British parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. "We would like to carry out this work promptly and estimate it will take a number of weeks to complete," Milner wrote. Facebook said in December that it had found just 97 cents worth of advertising by Russia-based operatives ahead of Britain's vote to leave the EU. Its analysis, though, involved only accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a suspected Russian propaganda service. Collins last month described Facebook's initial Brexit-related search as inadequate, and said on Wednesday he welcomed the company's latest response. "They are best placed to investigate activity on their platform," he said in a statement. "I look forward to seeing the results of this investigation, and I'm sure we will want to question Facebook about this when we know the outcome." Facebook told U.S. lawmakers last year that it had found 3,000 ads bought by suspected Russian agents posing as Americans and seeking to spread divisive messages in the United States about race, immigration and other political topics. In France last year, Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in the days before the country's presidential election to try to stop the spread of fake news, misinformation and spam.

Apple to Build 2nd Campus, Hire 20,000 in $350B Pledge

Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the U.S. economy. The pledge announced Wednesday is an offshoot from the sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code championed by President Donald Trump and approved by Congress last month.   Besides dramatically lowering the standard corporate tax rate, the reforms offer a one-time break on cash being held overseas.   Apple plans to take advantage of that provision to bring back more than $250 billion in offshore cash, generating a tax bill of roughly $38 billion.   The Cupertino, California, company says it will announce the location of a second campus devoted to customer support later this year.    

Twitter May Notify Users Exposed to Russian Propaganda During 2016 Election

Twitter may notify users whether they were exposed to content generated by a suspected Russian propaganda service, a company executive told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday. The social media company is "working to identify and inform individually" its users who saw tweets during the 2016 U.S. presidential election produced by accounts tied to the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Army, Carlos Monje, Twitter's director of public policy, told the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. A Twitter spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about plans to notify its users. Facebook Inc in December created a portal where its users could learn whether they interacted with accounts created by the Internet Research Agency. Both companies and Alphabet's YouTube appeared before the Senate committee on Wednesday to answer lawmaker questions about how their efforts to combat the use of their platforms by violent extremists, such as the Islamic State. But the hearing often turned its focus to questions of Russian propaganda, a vexing issue for internet firms who spent most of the past year responding to a backlash that they did too little to deter Russians from using their services to anonymously spread divisive messages among Americans in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. elections. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Russia sought to interfere in the election through a variety of cyber-enabled means to sow political discord and help President Donald Trump win. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.

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