International Trade Commission finds injury in solar industry dispute

The ruling in favor of two solar companies claiming they've been harmed by foreign solar cell imports could result in an increase in price that hampers the growing market for solar power in the United States.
By Brooks Hays  |  Sept. 22, 2017 at 2:21 PM
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Sept. 22 (UPI) -- The International Trade Commission has found injury in a suit filed by Suniva and SolarWorld, a pair of struggling, foreign-owned, U.S.-based solar cell companies who claim foreign imports have unfairly harmed their bottom lines.

ITC judges voted four to zero to advance the suit into the remedy phase. While it's not yet clear what the commission will recommend, the two companies have requested a tariff of 40 cents per watt for foreign-made solar cells, as well as a price floor for solar cells manufactured in the United States.

Such a remedy, should it be granted by the ITC and enforced by the U.S. government, could reverse years of economic growth in the domestic solar industry. Solar is the fastest growing new energy sector in the United States, and the technology has been getting cheaper every year.

"The ITC's decision is disappointing for nearly 9,000 U.S. solar companies and the 260,000 Americans they employ. Foreign-owned companies that brought business failures on themselves are attempting to exploit American trade laws to gain a bailout for their bad investments," Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a news release. "Analysts say Suniva's remedy proposal will double the price of solar, destroy two-thirds of demand, erode billions of dollars in investment and unnecessarily force 88,000 Americans to lose their jobs in 2018."

Suniva and SolarWorld claim their tariff petition will actually result in an increase in solar industry jobs in the United State. According to an economic analysis done by Mayer Brown, a law firm representing the two companies, a tariff on solar cell imports could generate as many as 144,300 new jobs.

Others in the industry have strongly protested such a positive projection.

"If we're talking about a 40 cent per watt increase... it would take out a lot of projects," Morten Lund, an attorney for Stoel Rives who represents SolarWorld in matters not related to the tariff petition, told Greentech Media.

In April, Suniva, a Chinese-ownded, Atlanta-based company, filed for bankruptcy. The company operates solar cell manufacturing factories in Georgia and Michigan. SolarWorld, a German-owned company with a plant in Oregon, is also struggling financially.

SEIA and a variety of solar companies they represent have complained -- to the press and directly to ITC judges -- that the problems of Suniva and SolarWorld are a result of mismanagement, not imported solar cells. SEIA and its allies have also complained that the failing duo don't have plans in place to explain how they'll become viable companies once trade protections are in place.

"To our knowledge, no domestic industry has ever been granted import relief under the safeguard law without first having publicly explained how it would restructure," Hopper said.

But having heard those complaints, the ITC has decided Suniva and SolarWorld were injured by imports. The ITC will hold a hearing to consider tariffs and other remedies on Oct. 3. Their recommendations for remediation are due on President Trump's desk by Nov. 13.

"We're hopeful that the president will make a strong proclamation on remedy, and we're hopeful that the industry can move forward together to expand and strengthen solar manufacturing here in America," SolarWorld's attorney Timothy Brightbill told GTM.

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