Final Clash Before US Solar Tariffs Decision

Familiar arguments, with just a few new twists, were replayed on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., as U.S. solar manufacturers and their opponents clashed before a commission charged with making the final decision on tariffs on Chinese solar PV imports.

The combatants were testifying before the U.S. International Trade Commission in a hearing [PDF] to determine if alleged unfair practices by the Chinese solar industry – illegal subsidies from the government, and dumping of products at below cost – are injuring the U.S. industry.

solarworld hillsboro

image via SolarWorld

In a preliminary ruling in December 2011, less than two months after SolarWorld and a handful of other U.S. manufacturers petitioned regulators to intervene against the Chinese, the ITC voted 6-0 that there was enough evidence to send the case forward. Since then, preliminary antisubsidy and antidumping tariffs – totaling around 35 percent on key manufacturers – have been imposed on Chinese PV imports by the U.S. Commerce Department.

Next week, the Commerce Department will issue its final verdict on the size of the tariffs, and then in early November the ITC is expected to announce its final decision on whether to lock the tariffs into place.

Beleaguered manufacturers told Wednesday’s hearing that things only got worse in the months after the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing brought the case. The gist of their case: A flood of subsidized, underpriced Chinese imports are bringing American solar manufacturers to their knees.

“Since I testified here last October, Chinese imports have surged into the United States in even greater quantities, far surpassing demand in the market,” Kevin Kilkelly, president of sales for SolarWorld Americas, said in prepared testimony posted on the CASM website. “Based on my knowledge of the market, this rush of imports caused inventories to build rapidly and prices to crash, further injuring the U.S. industry. Unfortunately, the market won’t recover until these substantial inventories are worked off, at fair prices.”

But the dispute over penalties on Chinese imports has split the broader U.S. solar industry, and the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, made up mostly of solar power installers and developers, has fought CASM every step of the way in the trade dispute. CASE fears that tariffs on Chinese solar panels will put a dent in solar’s push toward grid parity and slow growth in the United States.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.