Trade war could threaten solar power

February 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

A simmering solar trade dispute heated up Friday, as U.S. officials agreed to consider slapping tariffs on PV panels and other gear from Taiwan.

And the outcome could slow solar power’s rapid rise in America.  SolarCity_BW36_0

The U.S. International Trade Commission agreed Friday that there is a “reasonable indication” that solar equipment from China and Taiwan may be selling in the United States for less than “fair value,” harming U.S. solar manufacturers. The commission expects to issue a preliminary decision on March 26.

It’s the second time the commission has studied Chinese solar export practices. And it has opened a vicious rift within the solar industry.

The trade case was brought by SolarWorld, a German solar manufacturer whose American operations are based in Hillsboro, Oregon. SolarWorld was the driving force behind a previous trade case that ended in 2012 with the Trade Commission imposing tariffs on Chinese solar equipment. SolarWorld contends Chinese companies moved some operations to Taiwan and other locales to get around the tariffs. China retaliated in January by placing new duties on American imports of polysilicon, the raw material for most solar panels.

Cheap panels from China killed many American solar manufacturing startups, most famously Solyndra. SolarWorld argues that its Chinese competitors still unfairly benefit from their government’s financial support.

“Step by step, U.S. solar producers are returning to a day when they no longer are forced to compete with the government of China,” said Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., hailing Friday’s decision.

But those same plunging prices have been essential to American companies that sell, lease or install solar arrays, businesses such as Sungevity, Sunrun and SolarCity. They’ve seen their sales rise as prices fall.

SolarWorld’s latest trade case, they say, would make solar power more expensive, and therefore less appealing. And they’re furious about it.

“With the ITC’s preliminary ruling in favor of SolarWorld’s petition to impose tariffs on imported solar products, it is now official: a German company is one step closer to manipulating U.S. trade procedure in order to prop up its own failing business and inflict harm on a job-creating industry,” said Jigar Shah, president for the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, a group of companies opposed to the tariffs.

– David R. Baker

Comments are closed.