February 28, 2020

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Enviro News: US Solar Industry Hangs in the Balance as ITC Tariff Decision Looms- Nearly 90,000 Jobs at Risk

PMA mentioned in Enviro News article.

A hearing at the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) set for August 15, 2017, may decide the fate of the nation’s solar industry. Prompted by two major solar cell and panel manufacturers, SolarWorld and Suniva, the ITC is investigating whether these companies have been harmed by a flood of imports. If the ITC finds in their favor, it could impose tariffs that would threaten 88,000 U.S. solar jobs, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“There’s no allegation of wrongdoing, there’s no allegation of violating the law, there’s no allegation of unfair trade practices,” Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the SEIA, told EnviroNews. “There is merely an allegation that our domestic companies can’t compete because there are too many imports.”

Both Suniva and SolarWorld are in bankruptcy. And while both companies manufacture in the U.S., Suniva is majority-owned by Shunfeng International, based in China, while SolarWorld’s parent company, itself bankrupt, is headquartered in Bonn, Germany.

In a summary of the SEIA’s prepared remarks for the upcoming ITC hearing, emailed to EnviroNews, the trade group points out that Suniva and SolarWorld “were unable to manufacture and supply the 72-cell modules required to meet demand. Their production capacities were insufficient to handle scale requirements for those projects. Therefore, to meet utility-scale demand, increasing CSPV (crystalline silicon photovoltaic) imports were pulled into the U.S. utility market – they did not ‘flood’ the market – to supply developers with necessary products.”

The U.S., where the solar panel was invented, now manufactures only two percent of the world’s panels. China produces 65 percent, according to the Renewables 2017 Global Status Report. But despite its dismal global market share, U.S. solar manufacturing is not moribund. “There is a pretty vigorous solar manufacturing base here in the United States, with about 38,000 people and over 600 companies manufacturing here,” Hopper said.

The solar industry set a record in 2016, with installations accounting for 39 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. The sector as a whole employs 260,000 Americans through 9,000 businesses. The average cost of solar panels has dropped 63 percent in five years. “Over the next five years, we think solar will triple,” said Hopper, adding, “That presupposes there is no untoward trade action imposed on our industry.”

SolarWorld and Suniva have asked the ITC to set a minimum price of 78 cents per watt on solar panels manufactured outside the U.S. That would bring costs back to much-higher 2012 levels, wiping out much of the competitive advantage solar energy now enjoys. A report from analyst firm IHS Markit predicts that if the requested tariffs are granted, solar demand will plunge by 60 percent over the next three years.

In a surprise twist to this story, conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), along with non-solar industry associations and manufacturers, formed the Energy Trade Action Coalition to oppose the tariffs. “Protectionism is never the solution for an inability to compete globally,” said Bill Gaskin, former President of the Precision Metalforming Association. “Our country’s trade laws should never be co-opted into causing widespread pain for the broader U.S. economy.”

Read more here.