Trade Action Threatening the US Solar Industry


What will happen with regards to and ’s upcoming trade decision? Time will tell, but let’s see what’s at stake.

The industry has been on the rise over the last couple of years. And things were going smoothly until the request for a trade action was presented before the International Trade Commission in August. This has led to an all-out fight and Donald Trump has the last say in the matter.

In Colorado Springs, Phil Brodhagen’s company deals with panels installation. His customers are small businesses and homeowners who are locals of the military-friendly town. They prefer products made by American manufacturers, but only until they realize that the price of the domestic solar panels is over the budget.

According to Brodhagen, people in the town want to install solar panels but, of course, they have a relatively tight budget for the solar panels projects. Yes, these people would love to install American solar panels; but only if they could afford them. If not, they will most certainly not install solar panels at all or buy the cheapest type of solar panels on the market; the one that is within their budget.

Hundreds of businesses – just like Brodhagen’s – from all around the United States are very attentive to a recent case brought to the attention of the International Trade Commission of the United States (or ITC). Business owners are very worried about the outcome; and they have good reason.

The ITC’s decision may affect most solar panels installation companies in the US. And these business owners agree that the decision may seriously hurt the solar industry and force them to lay off thousands of people all across the United States.

The Trade Commission should rule whether imported solar panels have managed to hurt American domestic solar panels producers or not. If it decides the imports did cause serious harm to the domestic solar panels industry, then higher tariffs on overseas imports will most certainly be imposed.

Two companies, Suniva and SolarWorld (the companies operate on US soil, but are controlled by overseas entities), are responsible for bringing the petition before the ITC. According to the two companies, who are facing serious financial problems, their problems have been caused by the import of solar panels and solar panels cells imported into the US from overseas (mostly from China). Chinese companies and their imports have also been accused of being the cause of several other US solar panels manufacturer bankruptcies in the United States.

Suniva and SolarWorld state many US companies have been bankrupted by Chinese solar panels imports since 2012. Juergen Stein, SolarWorld’s CEO, has stated in front of the ITC back in August that the companies need the ITC’s help to save the United States solar manufacturing industry.

However, most of the other solar panels manufacturers – and most of the United States solar industry, in fact – is fiercely opposing the claims made by Suniva and SolarWorld. Even Solar Energy Industries Association (abbreviated SEIA), which is the largest solar panels and solar products trade group, is opposing the two companies’ claims.

According to SEIA, if the ITC sets higher tariffs on solar panels imports, this will possibly spell disaster for the solar industry and will lead to thousands of lost jobs. They show that the tariffs would hurt companies that work with solar panels (both buying and installing them) and even companies that manufacture products related to the solar industry. The problem is that hurting these solar panels companies would potentially result in up to approximately 88,000 jobs being lost, according to SEIA. If the petition presented by Suniva and SolarWorld comes to pass, a third of all solar jobs are gone. In addition, the largest solar panels trade group accuses Suniva and SolarWorld of using this petition to save themselves from their financial troubles without considering the impact on the rest of the solar panels industry.

So, what is at stake with the ITC petition? The answer is quite simple and applies to both sides: the very future of the solar panels and solar-related industry in the United States.

According to Bret Sowers, who is a solar panels farm developer, the trade case is an “eminent threat” to the profitability and wellbeing of his company. His projects are on a utility scale and depend hugely on a low price per watt cost. Sowers’s company is competing with not only other solar panels companies, but also with nuclear energy, coal, wind and natural gas.

Large scale projects like the ones developed by Sowers’s company managed to drive over 50% of the impressive growth the solar industry has seen since 2015. And keep in mind that the capacity of new solar projects has more than doubled between 2015 and 2016 alone.

With around two billion dollars in investments planned all across the southeast, Sowers’s company depends on the prices going down (which is the current trend). The solar panels farms will not be built if he can’t deliver the prices he expects. This means not only fewer jobs at his company, but also hundreds of jobs lost in the construction sector.

And Sowers is even more frustrated by the fact that the SolarWorld and Suniva plants are not even producing the large solar panels (each one contains 72 solar cells) that he needs for his large scale projects. However, these companies are the same companies that are trying to impose higher tariffs on solar panels imports; this doesn’t seem equitable for other solar panels installation companies and other entities in the solar panels industry.

Many solar panels installation business owners have attended the arguments that were brought in front of the ITC back in August. The interest was very high, and one official stated that only NAFTA saw so many people attend an ITC meeting.

In case the ITC rules in favor of the solar panels manufacturers, it can make some recommendations. However, Donald Trump has the last say in the matter. And the president is very eager to impose higher tariffs on solar panels imports, especially because many of these imports come from Chinese companies.

The ITC has several weeks after making the initial ruling to come up with some recommendations for president Trump. It is then up to the president if he accepts or rejects the recommendations. According to solar panels installation companies, the best way the Trump administration can create more jobs is to side with the solar industry. However, Suniva and SolarWorld are in the solar panels industry themselves. So, the question becomes: Which part of the solar industry should President Trump side with?

A decision will be made around January 26th. Follow solar news to see the outcome!




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