The US solar industry has experienced remarkable growth over the past few years, but a request for one of the few trade action has led to a fierce struggle over the future of the industry – and which would not exist without the presidency of Donald Trump.
Phil Brodhagen runs a solar installation company in Colorado Springs, and its clients – owners and local businesses in the field of military-friendly city – love-American-made products.
Until they see the price.
“They want to go solar, but they have a limit on how much they can spend.” he said. “They would like to be an American product, but if they can’t afford it, or they will not have a system at all, or go for the cheaper one.”
Brodhagen is one of hundreds of business owners across the US pay very close attention to a case before the US International Trade Commission. And he is worried about the outcome.
“It will hurt this industry,” he said. “It’s going to kick me out of people as all the others.”
On Friday, the commission should give a ruling on whether imported solar products have seriously injured U.S. solar manufacturers, enough to impose higher tariffs on imports in the world.
The petition was presented by the two solar companies that are based in the united states, but owned by foreign companies.
Suniva and SolarWorld have argued their financial problems – as well as a series of other solar manufacturer bankruptcies – are due to a massive overproduction of solar cells and panels imported from abroad, mainly Chinese companies.
They point to dozens of u.s. companies as their own, which have gone out of business since 2012.
“Quite simply, we need the commission’s help to save the solar energy manufacturing in the united States,” Juergen Stein, ceo of SolarWorld in the Us were reported to the commission in August.
But SolarWorld and Suniva find themselves fiercely opposed by a large part of the industry of solar energy in the united states, including the largest trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association (ESA).
SEIA has advocated to increase the price of solar panel tariffs will set back the solar industry for years, hurting businesses that purchase and install solar panels and solar related products. The trade group estimates a loss of 88,000 jobs, a third of the solar power of the work force, if Suniva and SolarWorld requests come to pass.
The group accuses the two companies of using the rare trade action to save themselves, at the expense of the rest of the industry.
What are the issues? For both parties, the immediate future of the rapid growth of the solar industry in America.
Bret Sowers, a utility scale solar farm developer, called the trade of “an eminent threat” to its business. Projects as its dependent on how low the price per-watt cost they can offer utility companies. The competition is not just solar companies, but also coal and wind, natural gas and nuclear energy.
Solar capacity has doubled between 2015 and 2016, and such large-scale projects drove more than half of the growth.
“We have nearly $ 2 billion in investment we have planned across the south-east”, he said, on the basis of prices continue their downward trend. If he can not give the price what it should, these solar farms will not be built.
“It is hundreds of jobs in construction disappeared,” he said, and the layoffs in his company.
Sowers is especially frustrated, because WE, the plants, SolarWorld and Suniva, have not been the construction of the larger, 72-cell panels at a large scale its projects.
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“The two points are not really in contact. They have cars and I’m buying trucks, and now they are saying that the trucks are hurting the cars.”
James Marlow, who runs a similar business in Georgia, is frustrated by the petition, even if it has just completed a project with Suniva panels.
“They used to be the hometown team,” he said of the company, to the origin of the Georgia Tech and having its registered office in the state.
In 2015, in an effort to expand, Hong Kong, Hong Kong-based energy firm has bought more than half of the company, but Suniva bankruptcy at the beginning of this year, a few weeks later, brought the commerce of the petition.
SolarWorld, which the parent company has also filed for insolvency in Germany, has joined the petition, shortly after.
Marlow is said to be favourable to bring production back to America, but thinks that this means that a set of policies to address what is “considerably larger” problem.
“This is why most of our clothes are made in Asia and why this phone, I am to speak to you Asia this is not just an action.”
He attended the August 15 arguments before the board of trade on the matter and said interest has been intense. There were two overflow rooms for people to listen to. An official told him that they had not seen that many people come to hear the case since NAFTA.
If the trade commission finds in favor of the manufacturers, it may make recommendations, but it is up to the president to decide.
And the President of Trump is willing to impose tariffs, especially in an industry in which he could be seen to be tough on Chinese manufacturing. He would have said, “I want someone to bring me some customs duties”, because “China is laughing at us”.
Once the trade commission makes its initial decision, it will have several more weeks to make a recommendation to the Asset. Then, the president may decide to follow it or not.
Solarworld had previously been successful with two applications for increase of tariffs on Chinese manufacturers for similar unfair trade practice charges.
But this was not enough, said Tim Brightbill, a lawyer representing SolarWorld, because the Chinese companies shifted production to other countries, in order to bypass the customs duties.
He also claims the potential of job loss numbers are exaggerated.
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“These predictions were made before, when SolarWorld has brought actions against China, that somehow jobs would be lost. But the opposite happened,” Brightbill said.
The situation is particularly odd considering both SolarWorld and Suniva are held by the parent company, which could be harmed by the tariff.
Brightbill said “it just shows that SolarWorld is committed to manufacturing here,” even if this means putting a tariff on a German product panel.
They may not be alone. While the U.S. solar industry is holding its breath, foreign manufacturers are beginning to think about setting up shop in the united states, especially if the commission recommends a broad tariff.
The two sides view the dispute as a turning point for the industry – and both think that the president should be on their side.
“If the Trumpet of the administration wants to create jobs,” James Marlow said. “They should join the industry of solar energy.”
The question for the President of the Asset will be of the party?