How Substantial Are PetersenDean’s Allegations Against SEIA?

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Originally published on the ECOreport.

PetersenDean claims that 7 of the 11 Board members displayed on Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) website are from  “Chinese-based manufacturing and affiliated companies” and SEIA represents Chinese rather than American interests. It is calling upon the Board to resign and is “asking for an ethics investigation under the SEIA by-laws, including Article 10.”

To which SEIA responded that PetersenDean is not one of their members and their allegations are “a PR puffball.” How substantial are PetersenDean’s Allegations?

[Editor’s Note: looking at the 11 executive committee members on SEIA’s Board (since I can only assume that’s what PetersenDean is referring to), I’m seeing US companies Clean Power Finance, SunPower, Nextility, SolarCity, Recurrent Energy (currently a subsidiary of Japan-based Sharp), SEIA itself (of course), Standard Solar, NRG Energy, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, E.ON North America (a subsidiary of Germany-based E.ON), and First Solar. There are exactly 0 Chinese companies on the executive committee. Yes, I’m sure some of these companies use Chinese products, but it would be absurd to expect otherwise in today’s solar market.]

Image (Erin Clark testifies at ITC)
Erin Clark of Petersen Dean testifying before the US Department of Commerce

Large numbers of inexpensive Chinese solar modules started making their appearance on the US market in 2011. In response to a complaint filed by SolarWorld, the US Department of Commerce imposed a tariff. Chinese manufacturers were able to get around this by using cells make in third countries, like Taiwan.

SEIA remained aloof from this controversy until SolarWorld filed another complaint.

“Our concern continues to be the damaging ripple effect of tariffs across the entire U.S. solar energy industry, and the very real threats these tariffs pose to our industry’s future growth and stability. Our position has remained consistent from the very beginning. We continue to advocate on behalf of a negotiated settlement aimed at achieving a win-win solution – one that takes into account SolarWorld’s concerns, but also those of thousands of other U.S. companies adversely impacted by punitive tariffs,” said Ken Johnson, Vice President, Communications for SEIA.

In a press release issued yesterday, PetersenDean said, “We were impressed to see SEIA vice president for trade and competitiveness John Smirnow testify last Monday, December 8, 2014, with some of the biggest manufacturing names in our industry. That said, we were confused. In spite of these companies having been found guilty of illegal and unfair widespread underselling and dumping of Chinese solar panels and their components in the U.S. market (three times by the Commission in some cases), SEIA supported them. SEIA is an American solar trade organization that should not be representing Chinese and Taiwanese interests in these matters.”

Erin Clark, President of PetersenDean/Solar4America, added: “It is outrageous that a trade association would side with Chinese manufacturing. It is insane. They are sacrificing American manufacturing jobs for installation jobs, when they could have had both.”

In response to the accusation that 7 of their 11 Board members come from Chinese-based manufacturing and affiliated companies, Johnson said there are more than 30 members on SEIA’s Board.

Neither SEIA or PetersenDean could say how many US solar companies have Chinese affiliations, or how many Chinese solar companies have American affiliations.

On page 411 of his book, Sun Above the Horizon, Meteoric Rise of the Solar Industry, Peter Varadi listed 11 Chinese solar companies that have US shareholders. In the case of Trina Solar and China Sunergy Ltd, most of their shares were in American hands.

Clark said he would have to go through SEIA’s membership roster to find out how many member companies have Chinese affiliations. In the testimony he submitted to the Department of Commerce, Clark said “most of his competitors” use inexpensive Chinese solar modules.

Ken headshot 1209
Ken Johnson, Vice President, Communications for SEIA

“PetersenDean is not a member of SEIA and has no standing in our internal affairs or decision-making process. What’s more, the company is hopelessly biased as evidenced by its exclusive supply agreement with SolarWorld,” said Ken Johnson, Vice President, Communications for SEIA.

“I can’t support SEIA until it’s a balanced governing body working in the best interest of the entire solar industry,” said Clark.

“It’s very unfortunate that PetersenDean, which signed a letter to President Obama in 2012 condemning the trade case brought by SolarWorld, has flip-flopped and is now shilling for them on street corners,” said Johnson.

He added, “The U.S. solar industry is not divided over this issue. Period. For whatever reason, PetersenDean has fallen for the false narrative that the ongoing trade litigation somehow represents the broad interests of U.S. solar manufacturing. That’s simply not true.  The current investigations were initiated by a single company, SolarWorld. By contrast, there are more than 30,000 Americans employed in U.S. solar manufacturing facilities which make a variety of other products, including polysilicon, back sheet and encapsulants, inverters, and racking and mounting systems. And many of these companies rely upon a broad global supply chain to both manufacture and sell their products, including hundreds of million dollars in annual export sales. There’s also another 110,000 Americans employed in solar service businesses who also benefit from a global supply chain.”

“It’s time to end the needless saber rattling. There are common sense ways to address SolarWorld’s competitiveness concerns, while ensuring the continued growth of the U.S. solar market. Throwing spitballs isn’t the answer.”

[Second Editor’s Note: I, for one, am very happy to see SEIA making such strong statements about these trade cases. I think it was too soft for too long. Hopefully this will keep up and we can soon move past this market-limiting nonsense. -Zachary Shahan]

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

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