OK, OK — yeah, I heard. Groundbreaking news came down from the U.S. Department of Commerce last week in SolarWorld’s anti-dumping complaint, and boy, does it muddle U.S. solar policy in ways that confuse me.
(At this point, I must take a moment to offer major congratulations and thanks to my immensely talented associate editor Kathie Zipp, who did yeowoman’s work last week chasing down this story while I dealt with some family issues. She did an absolutely fantastic job, and she often doesn’t get enough credit for the work she does — you can thank her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, Kathie — you’re a pro’s pro.)
I must admit, however, that I was shocked by how harsh the penalties were on Chinese solar panel manufacturers. Based on the initial decision in March on the first part of SolarWorld’s complaint, I was expecting the anti-dumping tariffs to be equally mild. So my jaw dropped when Kathie sent me her story and I saw that the tariffs ranged from 31.14% to 249.96%. Um, all I can say is, “Wow.”
I find this news confusing.
As you know, I’m on the record as supporting taking some action to protect U.S. manufacturing jobs in the solar industry, but I understood both sides of the argument. When the decision came down, I thought the Department of Commerce made a wise decision — mild tariffs on Chinese companies that could help to level the playing field. But the subsequent decision last week hammers the Chinese companies harshly.
Steve Grippi, business development director for Clenergy America, talked to Kathie last week, but his comments deserve wider dissemination:
We racking companies aren’t penalized directly, but the projects we are working on won’t happen. We have many projects that are completely on hold right now. We put in the racking but now there may not be panels to go on them. Tens of thousands of jobs are now on hold from installers, system integrators and engineering companies. This decision is counterproductive. We’ll survive, but we’re scared.
Actually, the cost of U.S.-made solar panels is now about equal to Chinese panels with the tariff. The problem is that the U.S. doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity to fit the demand now. We may in 3 to 5 years, but by that time billions of dollars and thousands of jobs will be lost. In China you can build a plant in three months because of their subsides and government policies. Here, there are so many restrictions, it takes 3 to 5 years to build them. Without any projects, we won’t even have the revenue to build these manufacturing plants.