The renewable energy trade fight between the United States and China, which started in earnest in October over imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules, spread to the wind power sector yesterday when four U.S. turbine tower manufacturers joined forces to charge that Chinese companies – and Vietnamese, too – were illegally dumping their products in the U.S.
The companies, represented by the Wiley Rein law firm – the same firm that’s working for SolarWorld and a coalition solar manufacturers in their fight with the Chinese – filed a trade complaint [PDF] with the U.S. Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission (ITC), demanding duties to compensate for alleged dumping margins of 64 percent on Chinese towers and 59 percent on Vietnamese towers.
The petitions were brought by four Midwest companies – Trinity Structural Towers, DMI Industries, Katana Summit and Broadwind Energy – calling themselves the Wind Tower Trade Coalition. A number of Chinese and Vietnamese companies are cited in the complaint, among them Titan Wind Energy, whose website includes pictures of turbine tower components (see photo above) being loaded for shipment to the U.S. for industry giant GE.
If it goes the distance, the long, tag-team complaint adjudication process involving the Commerce Department and the ITC can take more than a year, but it begins quickly, with Commerce required to decide whether to begin a probe within three weeks and the ITC scheduled to vote on Feb. 10 on whether the U.S. industry has been “materially injured or is threatened with material injury” by the Chinese and Vietnamese imports.
In a statement, Wiley Rein charged the Chinese and Vietnamese were “using unfair pricing practices to capture critical sales from the U.S. industry,” and said additionally that “the Chinese government has used, and continues to use, unprecedented levels of subsidization to push wind towers into the U.S. market.” The steel plate wind towers in question are massive. They are manufactured in three to five sections, then put together at the project site, and can weigh more than 300 tons and generally rise 80-100 meters in height. Prices for a tower can range from $300,000 to over $600,000.
According to the American Wind Energy Association’s recent quarterly update [PDF], 1,783 new turbines went online in the U.S. in the first nine months of 2011. The Wind Tower Trade Coalition complaint says it is difficult to determine how many towers are coming to the U.S. from China and Vietnam because that data is tracked by the weight of the components. But in the first nine months of 2011 the weight of Chinese and Vietnamese tower components imported to the U.S. doubled compared to the same period in 2010, the complaint says.
The U.S. and China have clashed on wind before, with the U.S. trade representative filing a World Trade Organization complaint in 2010 alleging China was providing subsidies to wind power equipment manufacturers who agreed to use key parts and components made in China rather than buying imports. Earlier this year, the Chinese agreed to end that program, but Wiley Rein said “numerous other subsidy programs remain in place, providing substantial benefits to Chinese wind tower producers.”
In its filing yesterday, the Wind Tower Trade Coalition cites “national, provincial and local” programs that benefit the Chinese industry with “grants, tax incentives, preferential loans, and subsidized inputs, such as steel.” As but one example, the complaint cites a report that “during the past year and a half alone, loans and credit provided by state-owned Chinese banks to Chinese wind tower producers totaled $47 billion.”