Much to the dismay of the majority of the U.S. solar industry, panel manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld were found to have suffered injury from imported crystalline silicon PV cells, and a petition for tariffs on foreign solar cells and panels will be sent to President Trump’s desk. The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) voted 4-0 on the matter.
The president will receive the ITC’s recommendation for action by Nov. 13, and he has 60 days to act.
Georgia-based panel manufacturer Suniva (which also had a plant in Michigan but was Chinese-owned) declared bankruptcy in April and then filed a Section 201 petition with the ITC. Section 201 permits the President of the United States to grant temporary import relief by raising tariffs on goods entering the United States that injure domestic production. The ITC took on the case in May with the goal to “determine whether crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) cells (whether or not partially or fully assembled into other products) are being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury, or the threat thereof, to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported articles.”
Suniva asked for a tariff of 40 cents per watt for solar cells produced outside the United States and a floor price of 78 cents per watt for panels.
German-owned SolarWorld joined Suniva’s trade case shortly thereafter. With no friendly support from within the solar industry, the co-petitioners found allies in the Steel Manufacturers Association and the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), meanwhile, has been leading a very vocal majority against the tariffs. The group estimates that the tariffs will double the cost of solar panels and cause the United States to lose 88,000 jobs next year, which is more than one-third of the industry’s entire workforce.
Higher solar panel costs will affect solar jobs across all market segments. The utility-scale market, which has paced the industry’s growth for years, would see jobs shrink by 60%, while residential and commercial employment would fall by 44% and 46%, respectively, SEIA said.
Members of the industry who opposed the tariff showed up en masse to an ITC hearing on Aug. 15, vocalizing that Suniva and SolarWorld’s operations represented less than 1% of the American solar workforce, yet this petition affected many more jobs.
“Both companies are foreign-owned and in bankruptcy,” SEIA said. “Their financiers are looking for U.S government protection after receiving tens of millions of dollars in federal and state handouts, but failing to compete…”
SEIA long tried to push the message that Suniva and co-petitioner SolarWorld had failed to show that the rising level of imports caused them serious injury and left them unable to compete in the U.S. market, even releasing a scathing press release earlier this week saying the two module manufacturers had no plan to function as viable manufacturers if granted trade relief.
“The relief sought by Suniva and SolarWorld would exacerbate the underlying problem of an excess global supply of solar cells and modules by severely limiting the U.S. market. Raising trade barriers and inhibiting the import of fairly-traded goods will not jumpstart U.S. cell and module manufacturing,” SEIA said in a factsheet.
How President Trump will react is unknown, but he has been quoted as saying he wants more tariffs. His decision must be made by mid-January 2018.
“While we continue to believe that this is the wrong decision, based on Suniva and SolarWorld’s mismanagement, we respect the commission’s vote and we will continue to lead the effort to protect the solar industry from damaging trade relief,” said SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper in a statement. “We expect to be front and center in the ITC remedy process, and in the administration’s consideration of this deeply-flawed case.”