With AD/CVD circumvention tariffs on Chinese solar module imports now out of play by the Dept. of Commerce, the larger potential disruption to the U.S. solar industry falls to the effects of the Withhold Release Order (WRO) on silicon-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., located in China’s Xinjiang province.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released the WRO in June 2021 as a reaction to allegations of companies in the Xinjiang region using forced labor. Specifically, Hoshine makes industrial silicon that other Chinese polysilicon firms source to make solar-grade polysilicon. The WRO banned any solar panel product containing Hoshine materials from entering the United States. It’s been estimated that around 80% of the world’s polysilicon supply comes from China, with nearly half coming out of the Xinjiang province.
Initially, solar industry regulation experts estimated little effect on U.S. solar operations. CBP identified about $6 million in direct imports of Hoshine material to the United States and about $150 million linked to other solar equipment using Hoshine material in the last year. Meanwhile, the United States imported more than $8 billion in solar cells and modules in 2020.
But the reality of the last six months has been different.
Roth Capital Partners indicated in August that solar panels from JinkoSolar, Canadian Solar and Trina Solar have been detained by CBP. All three companies have major panel manufacturing operations in China and supply the U.S. utility-scale market. LONGi, the world’s largest solar panel supplier, said earlier this month that 40 MW of modules were detained in late October, although the company has claimed to establish a product sourcing mechanism last year and does not use Hoshine materials.
Even “small” detentions of imported modules that then turn out to not use Hoshine materials disrupt supply chains and the global installation market. Rystad Energy is predicting supply chain issues to threaten 50 GW — or 56% — of the global utility PV developments planned for 2022. Utility-scale solar installers stated in previous press conferences that U.S. solar projects are already experiencing delays, either because of fewer module imports due to unknown tariff results or because module suppliers are feeling spooked by the WRO detentions.
There may be more clarity now. CBP released an updated WRO FAQ on Nov. 10, which alludes to more lenient requirements, lessening the burden on importers. Explicitly stated now is that “An importer can lower its risk of exclusions under the Hoshine WRO if it sources polysilicon from outside of Xinjiang.” This is likely to make importing easier for companies like LONGi that have established their own material traceability guidelines.
As the WRO is not a ruling discussed by a convening board, it will be in effect until the Biden Administration removes it.