Solar interests say thousands of jobs at risk as US trade panel to meet
- A group of 16 Senators and 53 representatives sent open letters last week to the International Trade Commission urging commissioners to reject a proposed tariff on imported solar cells and modules.
- The commission is conducting a hearing Tuesday over a proposal by Suniva, a solar manufacturer that declared bankruptcy earlier this year, to impose tariffs on all imported solar panels and establish a floor price on solar panels. The company is seeking an initial additional tariff of $0.40/watt and a floor price of $0.78/watt.
- Solar installers and some manufacturers have condemned the proposal, saying it would erase roughly two-thirds of installations expected to come online in the next five years and decimate solar industry jobs.
Suniva blames an influx of cheap imported solar panels for its demise. Asian-made solar panels flooded the market and hurt many manufacturers, including Suniva, but the lower prices contributed to a boom in solar installations.
Suniva filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, and while its predicament isn't unusual in the high-risk atmosphere for solar manufacturers, the company took a step to protect itself from foreign competition.
In May, it asked for tariffs on all imported panels and pushed for establishing a floor price for all solar panels. Overseas support of solar panel manufacturing has decreased the capital costs to roughly $0.10/watt in some emerging markets.
A GTM Research report said the trade dispute could endanger about two-thirds of domestic solar installations set to come online in the next five years. And the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said more than 88,000 jobs in the solar industry could be lost if the tariffs are implemented.
The tariff case is somewhat ironic, given that Chinese company Shunfeng owns a 64% stake in Suniva, and it's not clear how the tariffs would benefit Suniva in the long-term. The most immediate beneficiaries would be First Solar, and Tesla's SolarCity, both of which own panel factories in the U.S., UBS analyst Julien Dumoulin-Smith said in an April report.
This trade dispute could be a boon to President Donald Trump as well. Imposing tougher tariffs or trade restrictions on foreign-made solar panels would fulfill campaign promises to prioritize domestic manufacturing. And raising the cost of panels could ensure solar is less competitive compared with other forms of generation, particularly coal. Trump officials, including Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, have spoken in favor of keeping coal generation, despite the power sector's transition to cheaper natural gas and more renewable energy.
The commission is expected to decide on the Suniva petition by Sept. 22.
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