Cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film solar panel manufacturer First Solar has joined the side of Suniva and SolarWorld, asking the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to assist U.S. cell and panel manufacturers against imported crystalline silicon PV (CSPV) cells and modules.
The ITC voted 4-0 on Sept. 22 in favor of Suniva and SolarWorld, finding that imported CSPV products have caused U.S. manufacturers harm. Suniva was initially petitioning 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 on all products. The co-petitioners have since adjusted their request to 25 cents per watt for solar cells, 32 cents per watt for panels and a floor price on all imported solar products of 74 cents per watt. The ITC will send recommendations to President Trump by Nov. 13, and he has 60 days to act on whether to initiate relief remedies.
First Solar’s CdTe thin-film modules are not affected by the potential tariffs (in fact, the company should largely benefit from any tariffs put on competing solar panels), but the company still seems to be coming out as a proponent for U.S. CSPV manufacturing.
“For years, CSPV import prices have been anything but rational, falling much more rapidly than could be explained by cost improvements achieved on a commercial basis,” said First Solar CEO Mark Widmar in a letter to the ITC. “The root cause of this phenomenon has been massive CSPV overcapacity, particularly in Asia, that is inconsistent with market-based investment behavior. U.S. CSPV producers will not get the breathing space they need unless CSPV import prices rise to rational levels and this overcapacity is addressed.”
Widmar also wrote that a remedy on CSPV imports can coexist with continued U.S. solar growth. He said the cost of solar modules has a small impact on the overall cost of energy on large-scale solar projects.
“History further suggest that respondents’ fears of catastrophic demand destruction are exaggerated,” he said. “Some of the same parties now predicting such a catastrophe for U.S. demand made similarly dire predictions regarding the prior CSPV trade cases, yet U.S. demand grew to record levels nonetheless.”
This is likely a dig at SEIA, of which First Solar holds a board seat. SEIA has estimated that the suggested 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.
“SEIA remains convinced that punishing tariffs are not the answer,” said SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper in a statement first published on Greentech Media. “We hope to work with all parties, including First Solar, to identify solutions that don’t cause tens of thousands of lost American jobs and halt the growth of the broader solar industry.”