The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has announced remedy recommendations on imported crystalline silicon solar cells and panels. The four members of the commission have different suggestions on tariffs, quotas and import license sales. (See the ITC’s full recommendation here.)
Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein recommended a 10% tariff on solar cells with a 500-MW volume quota and a 30% tariff on imports that exceed 500 MW. For solar panels, she recommended a 35% tariff.
Commissioner Meredith Broadbent recommended a restriction on both cells and modules set at 8.9 GW the first year, increasing 1.4 GW for four years. She also recommended that President Trump sell import licenses at 1-cent per watt. The import license would generate $89 million in government revenue the first year on the 8.9-MW restriction.
Vice Chairman David Johanson and Commissioner Irving Williamson together recommended a 30% tariff on cell imports and a 30% tariff on modules, with Canadian imports excluded.
The group will submit its official recommendation to President Trump by Nov. 13, and he has the final decision.
A 30% tariff on foreign modules would be 10 to 15 cents per watt, significantly lower than what was initially requested by U.S. panel manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld. The two companies filed a Section 201 petition earlier this year, asking 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 voted 4-0 on Sept. 22 that, in fact, U.S. manufacturers had been harmed by imported crystalline silicon PV (CSPV) products. China, Mexico and South Korea were included as countries causing harm, while imports from Singapore and Canada were excluded.
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 then adjusted their request in September 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. SolarWorld also proposed an import quota of 220 MW for cells and 5,700 MW for modules.
Ultimately, the ITC will recommend tariffs, although much lower than what was first thought. SEIA has long suggested that any major tariff implementation would result in widespread job loss–between 48,000 and 63,000 American solar jobs in 2018, and between 60,000 and 84,000 jobs by 2020. Potential job losses has not been predicted at the ITC’s lower tariff suggestion.
Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, issued the following statement after the ITC’s annoucement:
“The commissioners clearly took a thoughtful approach to their recommendations and it’s worth noting that in no case did a commissioner recommend anything close to what the petitioners asked for. That being said, proposed tariffs would be intensely harmful to our industry. While we will have to spend more time evaluating the details of each recommendation, we are encouraged by three commissioners’ reference to alternative funding mechanisms, including our import license fee proposal.
“We remain committed to working with all parties to find a solution that supports domestic cell and panel manufacturing without cratering demand for American-produced solar energy. We look forward to collaborating with the Trump administration to arrive at such a solution and we will continue to work with our broad coalition of supporters to impress upon the administration the need for an approach that will not inflate the cost of electricity for all Americans and harm workers, consumers and the U.S. economy.”
The president will receive the ITC’s official recommendation for action by Nov. 13, and he has 60 days to act. He could decide to impose the recommended remedies, ignore them or propose alternate tariffs. President Trump has been quoted as saying he wants more tariffs. His decision must be made by mid-January 2018.
SolarWorld CEO and president Juergen Stein released a statement calling for the president to enact the tariffs.
“We are pleased that a bipartisan majority of the Commission has recommended tariffs, tariff-rate quotas and funding for the domestic industry. This is a useful first step,” he said. “The process will now move forward to the President, and we continue to believe that the remedies SolarWorld has recommended are the right ones for this industry at this time. We must ensure countries cannot undermine the remedies by underpricing their products in the U.S. market. As the White House has stated, ‘The U.S. solar manufacturing sector contributes to our energy security and economic prosperity.’ We look forward to President Trump establishing remedies that will place this industry back on a path of robust growth and put manufacturing workers back to work in an industry that will be a key to our nation’s future.”
Meanwhile, Standard Solar chief development officer Tony Clifford said any tariff would damage the U.S. solar industry.
“Today’s decision will have little or no immediate effect on the industry. These are only the ITC’s recommendations—and there are three of them! What does matter is if President Trump selects one recommendation, rejects all of them—or if he comes up with something completely different, as he has the power to do. The good news is that none of the three recommendations even get to 50% of what the Petitioners were seeking. The bad news is that all of them would still severely damage the solar industry,” he said. “The solar industry is a major source of new working class and middle-class jobs in this country, so even at a political level, it isn’t in President Trump’s interest to severely damage the solar industry. According to the Department of Energy, two-thirds of the 370,000 jobs in the solar industry don’t require a college degree. Those are the kinds of jobs the United States needs to rebuild the middle class President Trump says he’s committed to helping.”
This post was edited 11/01/2017 to include additional quotes from industry representatives.