Last week, Germany gave solar investors the jitters as word started to spread about a sooner-than-expected, and possibly steeper-than-expected, cut to the country's feed-in tariff. This week brought a bit more clarity on that front, but the matter is far from settled.

Germany's environment minister issued a proposal Wednesday featuring the following components:

  • A 15% drop in rooftop rates from April 1 and ground-mounted rates from July 1.
  • A 25% drop in rates for ground-mounted installations on farmland.
  • An additional 2.5% cut if annual capacity additions exceed 3.5 gigawatts, and again at 4.5 gigawatts.
  • A 2.5% boost if annual installations fall below 2.5 gigawatts.

While German solar lobbyists are howling that this proposal will cause insolvencies across their groups' 800 members, other lawmakers are seeking steeper cuts. We'll see where this shakes out as legislation is hammered out over the next two months or so.

Importantly, Germany is not placing a cap on its tariff, which is what torpedoed Spanish demand for SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWRA) and Yingli Green Energy (NYSE:YGE) panels back in 2008. There will still be a rush to get ahead of these rate declines, however, meaning that the back half of 2010 could be rough if other countries, like the U.S. and Italy, don't step in to pick up the excess inventory.

A Citigroup (NYSE:C) analyst pointed to First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) as most exposed to the German cuts out of any company in his coverage universe. He sees the thin-film firm possibly needing to match the sale-price declines of silicon-based rivals like Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL), which could drag full-year earnings down to around $6 per share. Three months ago, the average normalized estimate was more than $7 per share.

This week wasn't all about Germany, of course. There were several notable deals on the utility-scale front. A U.S. subsidiary of Spain's Fotowatio landed a major deal to install up to 500 megawatts of solar power at Edwards Air Force Base in California. A Korean consortium led by Samsung and Korea Electric Power (NYSE:KEP) won a bid to build 2.5 gigawatts of renewable projects in Ontario, including 500 megawatts of solar.

The notable thing about Ontario is that the province has written a 50% local content requirement into its feed-in tariff (which rises to 60% in 2011). Anyone with manufacturing operations in Ontario could thus see a major windfall. I explained Canadian Solar's (NASDAQ:CSIQ) move to build a factory here in this context last month.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.