BREAKING: U.S. ITC moves ahead with Suniva investigation


One day after one of bankrupt module manufacturer Suniva‘s largest creditors was exposed for trying to blackmail the Chinese Chamber of Commerce into paying $55 million to make its trade complaint go away, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is moving forward with an investigation of Suniva's complaint.

Investigation No. TA-201-75, the official number the ITC has assigned Suniva’s filing, will “determine whether crystalline silicon photovoltaic (“CSPV”) cells (whether or not partially or fully assembled into other products) are being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury, or the threat thereof, to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported articles.”

A Suniva researcher in happier times.

Image: US Department of Energy

If this were considered a routine investigation, the ITC would have to make its injury determination by Sept. 14 – one day after the conclusion of Solar Power International in Las Vegas. But the ITC has labeled the investigation “extremely complicated” (who knew trade disputes could be so complicated?), which means that it could take an additional 30 days to render its decision.

At the moment, however, it expects to render its decision on Sept. 22, with an official report submitted to President Donald J. Trump by Nov. 13.

“We are pleased that the Commission has taken this next step and initiated the investigation of this case. The company looks forward to working with the Commission as our petition moves forward,” said Matt Card, Suniva’s executive vice president of commercial operations.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) expressed strong disappointment in the ITC’s decision to consider the complaint.

“The International Trade Commission’s decision to consider Suniva’s petition for a lifeline could be bad news for hundreds of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and may jeopardize billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country,” Hopper said in a statement. “Setting high price floors and exorbitant tariffs is a blunt instrument that would cripple one of the brightest spots in America’s economy.”

“While we respect the ITC’s decision to evaluate this claim on its merits, SEIA will remain at the forefront of the opposition to Suniva’s requested remedies,” Hopper continued. “Our goal throughout this proceeding will remain focused on developing more equitable and sustainable ways to boost American solar manufacturing that benefit many companies instead of just a few, and allows the entire solar industry to continue to grow in this country.”

Solar Energy Industries Association's (SEIA) Abigail Ross Hopper:
“The International Trade Commission’s decision to consider Suniva’s petition for a lifeline could be bad news for hundreds of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and may jeopardize billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country.”

Little more than one month ago, Suniva filed for bankruptcy and filed trade complaints against its Chinese competitors under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act of 1974 with the ITC eight days later. The complaint asked for “global safeguard relief” from imports of crystalline silicon solar PV cells and modules – a move aimed at limiting Chinese manufacturers’ access to the United States.

In a twist that made even Alanis Morrisette sit up and say, “Oh. So THAT’S what ironic means!”, Suniva is majority-owned by a Chinese clean energy company called Shunfeng International Clean Energy (SFCE). Its Chinese parent, which also owns Chinese module manufacturer Suntech, opposes Suniva’s petition.

The complaint brought statements of condemnation from companies throughout the U.S. industry, with the national association, installers and even other module manufacturers criticizing the move. One report even emerged arguing the complaint could slash the U.S. PV market 60% by 2021.

And yesterday came the news that Suniva’s biggest creditor, SQN Capital Management, wrote a letter to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce saying, in essence, “If you pay us $55 million, we will liquidate Suniva’s assets so the company disappears.” As the letter also points out, if Suniva disappeared, so would the trade complaint.

Now the solar industry must wait with the ITC deliberates, but everyone in the industry is circling Sept. 22 on their calendars now – the day the fate of the U.S. solar industry could be decided.

Update: This article was updated at 10:20 pm EST on 5/23/17 to clarify that it was not Suniva that wrote the letter to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce but one of its creditors. It was also edited to add a statement from Matt Card at Suniva. We regret the confusion.

Read the entire ITC statement:

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