The U.S. government, saying Chinese solar-panel manufacturers “dumped” products at below fair market value, last week took action to impose steep tariffs on photovoltaic panels from China.
The action brought swift responses from several corners—emphatic endorsements from some U.S. solar manufacturers and condemnations from consumer groups, some suppliers of materials for photovoltaic systems, and businesses that develop and install solar-power systems.
If upheld by U.S. trade officials and enacted later this year, the tariffs could have a major impact on the global market for photovoltaics. The tariffs could impose a more than 30% duty on some Chinese exports, retroactive to shipments from early 2012.
SolarWorld Industries America Inc.
|The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) applauded a Commerce Department move to enact substantial tariffs on imports of solar cells and panels from China. SolarWorld industries America, based in Oregon, filed the initial petition seeking anti-dumping action by U.S. authorities. Shown here is a rooftop solar installation at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., reported to be the largest solar installation in the Southeast. The panels were supplied by SolarWorld Industries.|
According to news accounts, more than 60 Chinese companies could be affected, including Power Holdings Company, reported to be the world’s largest solar-panel manufacturer.
The economics of the solar-energy component industry has produced a simmering and at times boiling debate involving the issues of free trade, lower costs for solar components, and allegations of unfair export practices.
U.S. imports of solar cells were valued at more than $3 billion last year compared to $640 million in 2009, according to Commerce Department figures. China has quickly become the dominant global supplier of solar cells, to the chagrin of domestic manufacturers in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The U.S. imposed modest tariffs in March to address alleged illegal subsidization of the Chinese solar industry, but those actions were not viewed as wielding much clout in slowing the flood of imports.
Hot-Button Issue for Parties Involved
Voicing outspoken criticism of the Commerce action was the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), a group that says it represents the overwhelming majority of U.S.-based companies that develop and install solar-power systems.
“This decision will increase solar electricity prices in the U.S. precisely at the moment solar power is becoming competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity,” said Jigar Shah, CASE president.
CASE says the “vast majority” of the 100,000 jobs in the American solar industry are in sales, marketing, design, installation, engineering construction, and maintenance of solar projects.
“These jobs depend on affordably-priced solar panels, and companies would have to lay off workers if solar panel prices rise as a result of this investigation,” CASE said. “Consequently, American solar developers and installers have expressed unified opposition to SolarWorld’s campaign to impose taxes on solar panels in the U.S.,” the organization added, referring to solar-component manufacturer SolarWorld Industries.
But the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, which says it represents 210 companies involved in the production of solar equipment, said the Commerce action was correct and justified.
"The verdict is in," said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., which initiated the investigation of alleged Chinese dumping in a filing with U.S. authorities.
“In addition to its preliminary finding that Chinese solar companies were on the receiving end of at least 10 WTO-illegal subsidies, Commerce has now confirmed that Chinese manufacturers are guilty of illegally dumping solar cells and panels in the U.S. market,” Brinser said. “We appreciate the Commerce staff's hard work on this matter.”
SolarWorld filed anti-dumping petitions with the Commerce Department last October with the support of six other solar manufacturers including Helios Solar Works, based in Milwaukee and MX Solar USA, based in Somerset, N.J.,
The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing issued an analysis earlier this year that it said confirmed that China is is heavily subsidizing the development of solar-manufacturing capacity and using low-priced exports to topple the U.S. solar-manufacturing sector. (See the D+D News story, U.S. Solar Group Says Analysis Confirms China’s ‘Battering’ of Industry.)
Materials Suppliers Join in the Fray
Dow Corning Corp. and the Hemlock Semiconductor Group, two major manufacturers of solar-photovoltaic materials, harshly criticized the government action to enact tariffs.
While the tariffs plan “is intended to protect the U.S. market,” the companies said they believe “the consequences of this decision will have exactly the opposite effect, proving to be devastating to the growth and adoption of solar technology in the U.S., job growth, as well as to our competitive leadership of this industry worldwide.”
In a joint statement, Dow Corning and Hemlock said the decision “will make it more expensive and difficult for the U.S. to have access to the most proven and cost-effective solar technologies—weakening the U.S. solar industry at a critical point in its development.”
The companies added that while Germany-based SolarWorld “and its co-litigants may initially benefit from this decision, the industry overall in the U.S. will suffer—some economists believe that thousands of U.S. jobs could be lost, about half tied directly to the industry, if duties are imposed.”