Almost a year ago SolarWorld-backed Coalition for American Solar Manufacturers (CASM) filed trade complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) alleging that Chinese photovoltaic manufacturers engaged in unfair trade practices designed to sell their modules at costs below market rates to capture marketshare. But another group, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) has consistently maintained that imposing sanctions would hurt the U.S. solar industry. The commission held its final hearing on the matter yesterday (Oct. 3). Now the commission will make its final determination in the case with a decision expected by Nov. 7.
“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,” SolarWorld Americas President Gordon 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.”
CASE, on the other hand argued that module costs were driven down as incentives fell, which has made solar more affordable in the U.S. “SolarWorld opponents countered SolarWorld’s claims by demonstrating that the structure of U.S. solar programs and competition with natural gas have been the forces behind driving down the price of solar cells, not imports from China.”
That sentiment is echoed by others. For instance, Tom Gutierrez, CEO of GT Advanced Technologies, told ITC: “Trade barriers in the form of protective tariffs will not improve the economics of the U.S. solar industry or change the way the Chinese do business,” he said. “Other than starting a possible trade war with China, a key U.S. economic partner, this investigation has only made it more difficult for U.S. entrepreneurial companies like GT to export solar products abroad. The entire tariffs exercise is counterproductive to the primary objective of the U.S. solar industry: accelerate the growth of this renewable source of energy here in the U.S. by rewarding companies that can successfully compete in the global market with sustainable business models and create good paying jobs for American workers.”
But ITC previously sided with CASM’s and SolarWorld’s arguments, in two cases issuing preliminary tariffs on Chinese imports. And it could side with them again, preliminary duties were imposed twice. First, a 4.73 percent anti-subsidy duty was imposed in March, which was followed by an anti-dumping duty that ranged from 31 percent to 249.96 percent (depending on the company), in May. How the commission will ultimately rule could affect the cost of solar in U.S. if it drives up prices for the imported modules and allows domestic manufacturers to levelize or drive up their prices as well.