Reports that SolarWorld had formally brought its solar trade fight against China to Europe elicited a fresh round of scorn from critics within the industry on Tuesday, but the company said it had not in fact filed a complaint. Yet.
“We have always said that we will ask the European Union to take urgent action against unfair competition from Chinese solar manufacturers,” SolarWorld AG said in a statement emailed to media late Tuesday. “We can confirm that SolarWorld is working together with leading European manufacturers to urge the European Commission to act. We will not reveal any specific dates, however the European industry initiative will communicate its intentions in the coming days.”
SolarWorld’s U.S. unit has already convinced American trade authorities that the Chinese are cheating on solar, and early Tuesday The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times reported the Germany-based company had joined with other European firms in lodging a complaint with the European Commission.
The Financial Times said the complaint centered strictly on dumping, accusing Chinese firms of selling their solar products in Europe at below cost in order to shut down foreign competitors. A similar charge in the U.S. has won a preliminary ruling of duties of around 31 percent on Chinese products, to go along with anti-subsidy duties of around 4 percent.
SolarWorld’s efforts in the U.S. have drawn it some allies, particularly among domestic manufacturers, as you might expect. But installers and others have grown increasingly loud in their denunciation of the company. After the news broke — prematurely, it turned out — that a complaint had been filed in Brussels, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy said that “like a crazed agent provocateur, SolarWorld is fueling global solar industry infighting for its own selfish interest.”
CASE is fronted by SunEdison founder Jigar Shah and includes among its members installation heavyweights such as Sunrun, Sungevity and SolarCity, as well as the U.S. units of the Chinese manufacturers Suntech and Trina Solar.
“Today Germany-based SolarWorld has once again demonstrated that it is willing to undermine the world’s solar industry in a desperate effort to avoid competition in the marketplace,” CASE’s statement read. “The entire global solar industry – manufacturers, suppliers, installers and consumers — has benefited from the sharp decline in the price of solar cells, and our industry’s future success is predicated on our ability to continually improve the economics of solar electricity generation. SolarWorld desperately needs that trend to halt to remain competitive. ”
Whether it’s good or bad for the industry, or for consumers, bringing a complaint in Europe would emphasize the global nature of solar’s troubles — something often lost on Americans fixated on the small number of companies who received federal backing and then failed. Excess capacity is an industrywide problem, and China’s ability (or willingness) to sell its products so cheaply has left companies around the globe vulnerable.
Citing data from Eurostat, the Journal said Chinese solar imports had grown tenfold in Europe in the past five years and prices had fallen by half. Solar World’s revenue in Europe fell 30 percent in 2011.
Under EU trade rules, once a complaint is filed, the European Commission will decide within 45 days whether to open a formal investigation – “something that many analysts believe is likely” with the expected SolarWorld complaint, the Finacial Times reported.