US Solar Panel Makers Win US Trade Ruling

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In a unanimous vote Friday morning, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) found that the domestic solar panel industry has suffered “serious injury” as a result of “increased quantities” of imports of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and products based on the those cells. The ruling should have been a surprise to no one.

Now the ITC moves to the remedy phase of the process. That means that the commission will meet on October 3 to discuss a remedy for what the complaint claimed was dumping of Chinese-made solar panels at the expense of two U.S.-based solar panel makers, Suniva and SolarWorld, both of which filed for bankruptcy.

The complainants are seeking a floor price of $0.78 per watt on solar modules and a tariff of $0.40 per watt on imported modules. Analysts at GTM Research have said such increases would eliminate two-thirds of U.S. installations expected to come online over the next five years.

Following the October 3 hearing, the ITC must submit a final report to President Trump by November 13. If the ITC accepts the proposed pricing and tariffs — or, for that matter, any tariff — the president  will have an opportunity to make good on his promises to institute tariffs to drive U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The ITC complaint divided the U.S. solar industry primarily along the lines of cell and module makers like Suniva and SolarWorld pitted against solar installers and other supply chain companies that have seen business boom as prices for panels have fallen.

Suniva and SolarWorld contend that imposing a penalty on the importation of cheap solar PV panels will add between 114,796 and 144,298 jobs for the U.S. solar industry, including the upstream industries that manufacture critical components used in the production of solar cells and modules over the next five years.

The main solar industry trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), opposes the penalties:

The notion that doubling the price of solar panels would somehow increase demand and create jobs is preposterous. … SEIA’s members know what impact this will have on their ability to produce jobs; companies working in the solar industry today have been clear that Suniva’s sought-after remedy will be devastating to the American solar industry.

According to SEIA, the solar industry directly employs 260,000 Americans, more than 50,000 of whom were hired last year. U.S. jobs manufacturing solar cells represent less than 1% of all U.S. solar industry jobs, far less than the 35,000 other U.S. solar industry manufacturing jobs.