Solar Energy Trade Battle Heats Up Again

The group fighting SolarWorld’s bid for duties on Chinese-manufactured crystalline photovoltaic cells and modules on Monday released a report that claims protectionist measures would result in between 14,000 and 60,000 fewer American jobs than would otherwise exist by the end of 2014—but that wasn’t the only news in the solar trade battle.

SolarWorld claimed a victory of its own as the U.S. Department of Commerce ruled that a surge in Chinese imports since the company filed its trade petition in October constituted “critical circumstances.” That means that if the government rules in SolarWorld’s favor on March 2 on the company’s countervailing duties claim, the duties would be applied retroactively to early December. SolarWorld is seeking duties of more than 100 percent in response to both alleged illegal Chinese subsidies and dumping of products at below cost.

case solar industry tariff report

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SolarWorld said the critical circumstances ruling was unprecedented, and came in response to evidence put forth by the company that showed a “massive, evasive surge of Chinese solar cell and panel imports ahead of Commerce’s first preliminary determination on duties.”

This decision by Commerce was revealed in a letter to SolarWorld dated Monday, stepping on the toes a bit of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) and its jobs report put together by the Brattle Group consultancy. CASE chief Jigar Shah said the report showed the “devastating” effect that SolarWorld’s “anti-China crusade” would have on employment in the United States.

According to the report [PDF], duties of 100 percent would drive up PV prices and cost consumers at least $698 million. That would eliminate between 16,917 and 49,589 American jobs over the next three years, depending on the response to the higher prices. The impact of even a 50 percent duty would be nearly as great, the report said, resulting in net consumer losses of at least $621 million and job losses between 14,877 and 43,178. The report said that another 10,000 jobs could be lost if China retaliated to duties by slapping tariffs on imports of U.S. polysilicon.

“This is an eye-opening analysis,” said Shah, who claims CASE represents “97 or 98 percent” of the solar industry.  “Even after accounting for job gains in solar cell manufacturing, the likely job losses in the rest of America’s solar industry and economy are staggering.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.