The US Department of Commerce said on Thursday it was launching an investigation that could lead to steep import duties on more than US$100 million of wind energy towers from China and Vietnam.
The decision adds to the friction in clean-energy trade between the world’s two largest economies.
The US Department of Commerce is already investigating charges that Chinese solar-panel makers engage in unfair trade practices and will issue a preliminary decision on duties next month.
The Wind Tower Trade Coalition, a group of US producers, had previously said it was asking for anti-dumping duties of 64 percent on imports from China and 59 percent on Vietnamese imports.
However, in its announcement the department said China was alleged to undercut US wind-tower prices by nearly 214 percent and that of Vietnam by 141 to 143 percent.
Some Chinese makers of wind towers, including Chengxi Shipyard Co (澄西船舶), Titan Wind Energy (Suzhou) Co (天順風能蘇州) and Shanghai Taisheng Wind Power Equipment Co (上海泰勝風能), said on Thursday they oppose the charge. Other Chinese wind-tower makers also expressed concerns, saying any anti-dumping duties by the US could hurt prospects in a growing market.
Imports of wind towers from China and Vietnam amounted to an estimated US$103.6 million and US$51.9 million respectively in 2010. The towers, which can stretch more than 100m into the air, are made of individual pieces assembled on site. They support the blades and housing for wind turbines.
Trinity Structural Towers president Kerry Cole said domestic producers suffered a severe blow when they were shut out of the 338-tower Shepherds Flat project in eastern Oregon, which is due to be completed next year and is billed as the world’s largest wind farm.
“All of it went to China. This lone lost sale had ripple effects throughout the industry. After losing this sale, domestic producers were desperate to fill their order books,” putting them under tremendous pressure to cut prices, Cole said.
US producers would continue to face “reduced business volumes, margins and reduced profits” unless the US slaps duties on imports from China and Vietnam, DMI Industries vice president of sales, Michael Barczak, told the US International Trade Commission (ITC).
“Current production levels are low and because of imports are not projected to improve in future years. If these trends continue, a number of domestic producers will have to shut down plants or consolidate production,” Barczak said.
Lawyers representing Chinese and Vietnamese producers, as well as the US operations of German manufacturing giant Siemens, argued that demand for wind towers was driven by more than just price.
For wind projects near the coast, it can be cheaper to import towers from Asia than to buy from a US manufacturer and ship them across the country by rail, said Christopher Hauer, director of Siemens tower operations in the US.
It also is critical that manufacturers supply towers on time and to the specifications Siemens needs, Hauer said.
“Domestic manufacturers have proved themselves unreliable and often unwilling to provide supply. Siemens cannot afford to be left without supply alternatives,” he said.
Max Schutzman, an attorney representing Chinese and Vietnamese producers, said petitioners offered “no real evidence” that they had been materially injured or threatened with material injury by the imports.