The US solar industry could lose a third of its workforce, or an estimated 88,000 jobs, if the US Government and the US International Trade Commission rules in favor of Suniva’s request for a tariff and price floor.
Simply put, Suniva, a US manufacturer of high-efficiency crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar cells and high-power solar modules, has petitioned the US International Trade Commission (ITC) to place a tariff on all imported solar cells and to set a price floor for nearly every imported panel. The company’s argument is that it cannot compete with foreign rivals — obviously, considering that the company, majority-owned by a Chinese firm, declared bankruptcy back in April.
Late last month, the ITC formally accepted the petition and began an ‘Antidumping and Countervailing Duty Investigation’ that it expects to conclude in September. According to a Fact Sheet compiled by the ITC (PDF), “The Commission may recommend to the President an increase in a duty, imposition of a quota, imposition of a tariff-rate quota (e.g., a two-level tariff, under which goods enter at a higher duty after the quota is filled), trade adjustment assistance, or any combination of such actions.”
Additionally, and more concerning in my opinion, “the Commission may also recommend that the President initiate international negotiations to address the underlying cause of the increase in imports or that he implement any other action authorized under the law that is likely to facilitate positive adjustment to import competition.” Given that we are dealing with a President who is wildly pro-American business and anti-anyone else’s business, and the precedence set during his campaign to prioritize American businesses above any and all existing and potential negotiations, this does not bode well.
On the face of it, pro-American business stances make sense, if you don’t look too hard. Specifically, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) revealed Thursday that it believes, if the US Government rules in favor of Suniva, the US solar industry would lose an estimated 88,000 jobs, or around a third of its current workforce. Narrowing that down even further, California would lose 16,000 jobs, South Carolina would lose 7,000 jobs, and the Texas solar industry would crash in half, losing 46% of its solar jobs.
Suniva claims that a ruling in its favor will actually support and protect domestic solar manufacturing, but the SEIA believes that US solar manufacturing jobs would decline dramatically.
“These new estimates show the potential damage to the solar industry as a result of this petition,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA President and CEO. “Rather than help the industry, the action would kill many thousands of American jobs and put a stop to billions of dollars in private investment.”
“Our estimates show that even in the states where Suniva and its lone supporter, SolarWorld, have operations, if the petition succeeds, there would be many times more jobs lost than expected gains for two struggling companies.”
All arenas of solar industry in the US would be affected by this decision. The utility-scale market would see jobs drop by 60%, while residential and commercial jobs would drop by 44% and 46% respectively.
“Suniva’s trade petition has the potential to negatively impact more than a thousand hardworking Swinerton installers throughout the United States, with emerging utility-scale markets taking the hardest hit,” said George Hershman, senior vice president and general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy. “Should the petition be approved, those markets would no longer be cost-competitive, killing a growing economy and a real opportunity for job creation.”
Renewable energy companies in the states likely to be hit hardest are similarly upset with the possible impact a ruling in favor of Suniva would have.
“We believe Suniva’s Section 201 trade petition has a strong potential to negatively affect thousands of current and future jobs across the renewable energy industry,” said Trent Mostaert, vice president and general manager for Solar and Emerging Renewables, at Mortenson, which operates in Texas. “Solar energy has achieved tremendous adoption in the U.S. and costs continue to decrease as the industry grows and this proposal could bring that progress to a halt and hurt the economy.”