U.S. Solar Panel Makers Petition Govt. to Investigate Chinese Solar Subsidies, Dumping

A coalition of seven U.S. manufacturers of solar cells and panels today petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to investigate whether Chinese manufacturers are illegally dumping crystalline silicon solar cells into the U.S. market and receiving illegal subsidies from China. The measure follows a string of bankruptcy filings by several U.S. solar manufacturers in the past few months.

SolarWorld Industries America, the largest domestic producer of crystalline-solar wafers in the U.S., said it was representing the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM). The group petitioned the government to halt the “ever-rising tide of heavily subsidized solar cells and panels that China’s state-supported solar industry is illegally dumping into the American market,” it said in a statement.

“China’s predatory and illegal aggression is crippling the U.S. industry, and it is incumbent on SolarWorld and CASM to hold China accountable to world and U.S. trade laws in defense of American production and jobs,” CASM says on its website. “The companies and workers that make up CASM can compete with any solar producers in the world, but should not be forced to compete against the massive shipments of illegally dumped and subsidized imports supported by the entire Chinese government.”

U.S. solar cell and panel makers have struggled to keep afloat as the price of photovoltaic panels plunged 17% in 2010 compared to the year before, and by an additional 11% within the first six months of 2011. At least seven companies—including Solyndra, Evergreen, and Stirling Dish—have had to close or downsize in the past 18 months.

CASM says Chinese exports of solar cells and solar panels to the U.S. rose more than 350% from 2008 to 2010. “In July 2011 alone, imports of Chinese crystalline silicon PV panels and modules exceeded the volume imported in all of 2010. This surge has been the primary cause for a 40% decline in world prices over the past year,” it claims.

The cases, which allege dumping margins well in excess of 100%, as well as massive subsidies, are among the largest against China—and the largest in renewable energy industry history.

“Artificially low-priced solar products from China are crippling the domestic industry,” said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., based in Hillsboro, Oregon. “As the strongest and most experienced U.S. producer, SolarWorld is leading the effort to hold China accountable to world trade law.”

“China’s systematic campaign to dismantle the U.S. industry has cost thousands of jobs in Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania,” Brinser said. “China’s wrongful tactics run systematically across the board; central planning has subsidized most facets of these companies’ business. China actually has no production cost advantage. Labor makes up a modest share of solar-industry costs, China’s labor is less productive, its raw material and equipment have come from the West and China must pay for long-distance shipping. Yet, massive state subsidies and sponsorship have enabled Chinese manufacturers to illegally dump their products into a wide-open U.S. market.”

The petitions allege that the Chinese government—its state-controlled financial, utility and other institutions intermingled with its solar manufacturing industry—has deployed an arsenal of land grants, contract awards, trade barriers, financing breaks and supply-chain subsidies to advance its pricing and export aggression. China exports nearly all of its production to benefit from other markets’ consumption incentives while increasing output and impeding imports. “Along the way, it also sidesteps U.S.-level manufacturing standards for labor, quality, and the environment,” the group said.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said in a statement in response to news of the petition that  U.S. solar manufacturing was essentially healthy. 

“There are more than 5,000 companies operating in the U.S. solar energy industry. These companies employ over 100,000 American workers, including more than 25,000 in the manufacturing sector,” he said. “As long as the U.S. is able to compete on an even playing field, the combination of policy certainty, private investment and continued technological advances will keep the solar industry as one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the country.”

Global trade in solar products had also been “good” for the U.S., he said.  “As global competition intensifies, we will continue to support open markets based on free and fair trade principles. It is critical that governments and private parties operate within the framework of internationally-negotiated trade rules.”

Sources: POWERnews, SolarWorld, CASM, SEIA

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