Solar factions debate tariff issues at ITC

Factions of the U.S. solar industry faced off before the International Trade Commission (ITC) on Oct. 3 for the last time as a series of decisions on tariffs on Chinese solar modules are pending.

The domestic industry is booming, as solar capacity additions are expected to be 3.2 GW this year. But that growth is threatened, some say, as uncertainty grips the market.

On one side was the SolarWorld-led Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), which includes about 225 companies employing more than 18,000 workers, which has had success in preliminary decisions

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) is on the other, saying that market dynamics and oversupply are driving worldwide panel prices lower, not unfair trade practices.

“SolarWorld actions have started a global trade war,” Kevin Lapidus, Senior Vice President Legal and Government Affairs, SunEdison, said in a press briefing on Oct. 4, citing investigations in the U.S., China, Europe and India as countries stake out protective actions for domestic solar industries.

Before the ITC, CASM gave a different take.

“Five years ago, we saw the industry really taking off in the United States, and we carefully planned how we would be a responsible leader in this growing market,” Gordon Brinser, U.S. president of manufacturing for SolarWorld testified.  “We made enormous investments in our facilities and devoted substantial resources to technological development.  However, far from benefitting from the growth in U.S. demand, SolarWorld has been severely harmed by unfairly traded Chinese imports.”

CASM contends that China’s state-sponsored export policies have caused at least 14 U.S. manufacturers to close or downsize operations, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs in eight states.

The ITC last December issued a unanimous preliminary ruling that the Chinese practices are materially injuring the domestic crystalline silicon solar manufacturing industry. The ITC will announce its final determination on Nov. 7.  Final import duties will be announced by the Department of Commerce on Oct. 10.

“Trade barriers in the form of protective tariffs will not improve the economics of the U.S. solar industry or change the way the Chinese do business,” said Tom Gutierrez, CEO of GT Advanced Technologies. “Other than starting a possible trade war with China, a key U.S. economic partner, this investigation has only made it more difficult for U.S. entrepreneurial companies like GT to export solar products abroad. The entire tariffs exercise is counterproductive to the primary objective of the U.S. solar industry: accelerate the growth of this renewable source of energy here in the U.S. by rewarding companies that can successfully compete in the global market with sustainable business models and create good paying jobs for American workers.”

“It is clear that Germany’s SolarWorld, in an attempt to obtain government intervention to raise the price of solar energy, is willing to threaten the future growth of America’s solar industry to achieve its own goals,” the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy said in a statement.

SolarWorld filed petitions with the ITC and Commerce on Oct. 19, 2011.  Commerce announced preliminary anti-subsidy duties of up to 4.73% on Chinese cells and panels in March and preliminary anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar cell and panel imports ranging 31% in May.