On Friday, the International Trade Commission (ITC) sided with bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Suniva, voting 4-0 that cheap imported solar panels and modules have harmed domestic panel manufacturers.
The commission now has until November to send recommendations on remedies to President Trump, who will be responsible for either setting a tariff on imported solar materials or finding some other remedy. Given Trump’s promises to bolster American manufacturing, it’s likely that he’ll favor restrictions on solar panel imports.
The case is unique in that it has caused a considerable rift in the solar industry, with manufacturers on one side and installers on the other. Installers fought against Suniva’s bid for tariffs, saying that cheap imported panels have been a primary driver of the solar industry’s recent boom. Other solar installers have claimed that Suniva’s money woes were the result of mismanagement and poor products, not foreign imports.
Suniva filed for bankruptcy in early 2017 just before it petitioned the ITC for panel and module tariffs. It was later joined by SolarWorld Americas in its petition. The two companies requested “a 40-cent-per-watt duty on imported cells and a 78-cent-per-watt floor price for imported modules,” according to E&E News.
Both sides of the argument have presented numbers to reflect the impact of aggressive tariffs on solar imports. A recent Solar Foundation jobs census found that, in 2016, there were 260,077 solar jobs, including 38,121 jobs in manufacturing. Solar advocacy group Solar Energy Industries of America (SEIA) says that Suniva’s requested tariffs could cause the industry to shed 88,000 jobs. The solar manufacturers, on the other hand, have estimated that protection against imports would allow them to hire nearly 115,000 people, a number that SEIA called “preposterous.”
In a statement, Solar Foundation President Andrea Luecke said, “This decision brings yet more uncertainty to an industry that has created real value for the United States,” adding that the foundation’s recent jobs census showed that “the dramatic growth in US solar employment over the past several years was driven by the sharply reduced cost of installations.”
TJ Kanczuzewski, CEO of Inovateus Solar, told Ars that it was “disheartening” to hear the news of the ITC finding, adding that he was expecting up to a 60-percent drop in solar installations if a newly imposed tariff is as high as Suniva wants. “We’re going to have to plan accordingly,” the CEO said. “There’s still some hope that the tariff will be minimal.”
Ars attempted to contact Suniva but has not received a response. In a statement, Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas, said:
On behalf of the entire solar cell and panel manufacturing industry, we welcome this important step toward securing relief from a surge of imports that has idled and shuttered dozens of factories, leaving thousands of workers without jobs. In the remedy phase of the process, we will strive to help fashion a remedy that will put the US industry as a whole back on a growth path.
Complicating matters is the fact that neither Suniva nor SolarWorld Americas is fully US owned and operated. Suniva is 63-percent owned by a Chinese company, and an E&E News report suggests that, prior to bankruptcy, Suniva had been doing quite a lot of manufacturing overseas. SolarWorld Americas, on the other hand, is owned by a German parent company.