SEIA warns of US solar industry ‘death blow’ as Washington mulls tariffs


From pv magazine USA

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has launched an attack against an effort by a group of companies that have asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to consider imposing tariffs on solar equipment imported to the United States from three Southeast Asian countries.

In mid-August, a trio of petitions filed by the American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention asked the Department of Commerce to impose antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) orders on a handful of producers of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules that are imported from Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In a news conference on Monday, SEIA said that the petitions should be dismissed on their merits. More broadly, the industry trade group said that the tariffs would cripple the U.S. solar industry and affect the country’s plans to tackle climate change. The group said that almost 80% of all solar modules are imported from the countries, which include Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

George Hershman, president and general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy, said that 90% to 95% of the modules that his company plans to import could be affected. He said that “100%” of the 7.5 GW of projects his company has in the pipeline for this year and next are at risk.

“This is absolutely the biggest risk and issue for our company and the industry,” Hershman said during a press conference hosted by SEIA. Hershman chairs the trade group’s executive committee.

Justin Baca, SEIA’s vice president of markets and research, said that AD/CVD tariffs could result in the loss of as many as 45,000 solar energy workers by 2023. The organization has also said that not enough capacity exists outside the three countries to meet growing domestic demand for solar.

Markus Wilhelm, CEO of Strata Clean Energy, said that the solar energy market is dependent on a global supply chain and is therefore “vulnerable” to possible trade disruptions.

The Department of Commerce has 45 days to initiate an investigation based on the petitions and can issue a preliminary determination at that time. It could decide within days about whether to launch a trade investigation into solar cells and modules that are imported from Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The group of companies filed the petitions through the law firm Wiley Rein. They asked the Department of Commerce to investigate what it said are “unfairly traded imports” from the three countries. They claimed that antidumping duties on Chinese solar products have “hobbled the U.S. industry, eviscerated our supply chains, and put our clean energy future at risk.”

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The group of companies has asked the Department of Commerce to investigate the following Asian companies:

  • Malaysia: Jinko Solar Technology Sdn. Bhd., LONGi (Kuching) Sdn. Bhd. and its Vina Cell Technology Company Ltd. affiliate, and Vina Solar Technology Company Ltd., JA Solar (Malaysia) Co. Ltd., and JA Solar Malaysia Sdn. Bhd.
  • Thailand: Canadian Solar Manufacturing (Thailand) Co., Ltd., Trina Solar Science & Technology (Thailand) Co., Ltd., Talesun Solar Technologies Thailand, Talesun Technologies (Thailand) Co., Ltd., anbd Astroenergy Solar Thailand Co. Ltd.
  • Vietnam: Trina Solar (Vietnam) Science & Technology Co. Ltd., Canadian Solar Manufacturing (Vietnam) Co. Ltd., China Sunergy Co. Ltd., Boviet Solar Technology (Vietnam) Co. Ltd., Boviet Solar Technology Co. Ltd., GCL System Integration Technology (Vietnam) Co. Ltd., Vina Cell Technology Company Ltd., Vina Solar Technology Company Ltd., LONGi Green Energy Technology Co. Ltd.,  JinkoSolar (Vietnam) Co. Ltd.

Stalled purchase orders

If the Department of Commerce launches an investigation, it could issue a preliminary determination in 180 days. A final determination could come next summer. Any duties would be retroactive to the start of the investigation, which is why companies are reporting an immediate effect on their business.

Hershman told reporters that the largest solar panel manufacturers have already said they will not deliver product for his company’s projects. “We are not able to issue purchase orders,” he said. He declined to name the panel manufacturers.

One question that the Department of Commerce will need to consider is the extent to which those countries add significant value to the manufacturing process. The petitions claim that little material value is added. Most of the economic and intellectual capital comes from China, where the manufactures are located.

The petitions allege that module assembly  has been located outside of China in an effort to skirt U.S. import duties. In an interview with pv magazine shortly after the petitions were filed in August, Timothy Brightbill, a partner at Wiley Rein, said that the group’s requested action is similar to action taken in relation to cold-rolled and corrosion-resistant steel from China.

After duties were put in place, Chinese companies were found to be sending steel to third countries for final processing before being exported to the U.S. In that case, tariffs were imposed country-wide. The scope being sought by the group of solar companies he represents is more narrowly focused on a handful of companies.

SEIA is arguing that more than two-thirds of the value of solar panels is created during the manufacturing process in the three countries. It said the manufacturing process is capital intensive and requires skilled labor and that “nearly all” of the critical technological processing occurs within the countries.

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