The solar program, launched in 2010, aims to commission 1,000 megawatts of grid-connected solar power projects by 2013 as part of the first phase. At issue is India's photovoltaic domestic content requirements policy, which the United States says is discriminatory against American solar manufacturers.
The complaint, announced Wednesday by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, comes amid trade disputes with China. Those intensified this week when a consortium of European solar glass manufacturers filed an anti-dumping complaint with the European Commission against solar glass from China.
Last November, India's Ministry of Commerce officially launched anti-dumping investigations into imported solar cells from China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the United States.
In a statement, Kirk said: "Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports the rapid deployment of solar energy around the world, including with India. Unfortunately, India's discriminatory policies in its national solar program detract from that successful cooperation, raise the cost of clean energy, and undermine progress toward our shared objective."
"We will not hesitate to enforce our rights under our trade agreements on behalf of American workers and manufacturers," Kirk said.
Press Trust of India on Thursday quoted Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary in India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, as saying: "We don't want to go against the WTO ... We think that we have not violated the WTO norms."
Kapoor said the issue being raised by the United States relates to about 350 megawatts of solar capacity in the national solar mission.
"We already have installed about 1,200 megawatts. About 1,000 MW is in the pipeline and around 2,000 MW is under tendering," Kapoor said, adding that the maximum number of orders have gone to U.S. companies during the award of the last two batches under the solar mission.
Rajeev Kher, additional secretary in the Commerce Ministry, said in a statement that India has 10 days in which to respond, "according to the laid-down procedure" and "will respond."
Writing in a blog post, John Smirnow, vice president of Trade & Competitiveness at the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry, pointed out that the United States is challenging only one provision of India's National Solar Mission, the local content requirement.
"This challenge does not threaten the National Solar Mission itself," he wrote.
Smirnow suggested that industry and governments collaborate on developing a list of WTO-consistent government support programs that countries could use for guidance "with the shared objective of expanding solar energy around the world free from the restraints of unfair trade barriers."