Leaders of companies with a stake in the US market for solar photovoltaic (PV) energy earlier this week testified before the US International Trade Commission (ITC) panel investigating whether or not China’s crystalline silicon PV exports to the US violate WTO rules on international trade by materially harming US manufacturers.
The Oct. 3 ITC hearing was the last in one of the largest anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases ever brought against China, and there have been many. US solar manufacturers, led by SolarWorld USA CEO Gordon Brinser, testified that “Chinese imports have accelerated losses of high-paying jobs and plant closures at a time when the United States is struggling to jump-start a struggling economy,” according to a Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) press release.
Does the US Need Solar PV Manufacturers?
During the hearing, the ITC panel heard testimony from US solar PV manufacturers, distributors, and installers. Other witnesses included Brigadier Gen. Michael Caldwell, Oregon Military Department; Joe Morinville, president of Pittsburgh-based installation firm Energy Independent Solutions; Mike McKechnie, president of installation firm Mountain View Solar in Berkeley Springs, WV.; and Mark Ferda, renewable energy manager for electrical-supply company McNaughton-McKay Electric Co. in Madison Heights, MI.
SolarWorld, the 225 CASM members, and its supporters assert that China’s predatory, state-subsidized exports to the US has caused at least 14 U.S. manufacturers to close or downsize operations. “That’s resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The most recent shutdowns, they said, include Schott’s plant in New Mexico and Sharp’s plant in Tennessee.”
It’s unlikely that the US solar manufacturing industry can survive the massive surge of crystalline silicon PV products into the US that followed CASM’s two unfair-trade petition filings with US WTO authorities without relief, including levying of duties, CASM members and supporters testified.
Countering CASM and supporters’ claims, the Coalition for Affordable Soalr Energy (CASE) attributed declining solar PV cell and module costs to declining US government incentives, and competition with natural gas to the problems in US solar manufacturing. The trade group laid the blame for bankruptcies and downsizing at the doorstep of US manufacturers themselves.
“Module costs were driven down in parallel with declining incentives for solar energy which has resulted in making solar energy affordable in the US,” CASE stated in a press release. “To the extent that companies such as SolarWorld are not doing well, this reflects their own failures, including being late-comers to the utility segment and to module innovation. In this environment, only those solar module manufacturers that have invested, innovated, and cut costs are equipped to survive.”
“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,” CASE continued. “SolarWorld opponents countered SolarWorld’s claims by demonstrating that the structure of US solar programs and competition with natural gas have been the forces behind driving down the price of solar cells, not imports from China.”
SolarWorld USA filed petitions on behalf of CASM with the ITC and Commerce Department on Oct. 19, 2011. Based on results of their investigations, Commerce in March announced preliminary anti-subsidy duties of up to 4.73 percent on Chinese cells and panels, and in May announced preliminary anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar cell and panel imports ranging from 31 percent to 249.96 percent.
“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,” Brinser 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.”
The ITC panel in December 2011 determined “that there is a reasonable indication that an industry in the United States is materially injured by reason of imports from China of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules… that are alleged to be sold in the United States at less than fair value (LTFV) and subsidized by the Government of China.” The ITC’s final determination is expected on Nov. 7. An affirmative vote would validate the final import duties that Commerce is expected to announce on Oct. 10.
Solar PV manufacturers and other industry participants in the European Union and India have more recently filed complaints alleging China’s government and silicon PV manufacturers are violating WTO international trade regulations.
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