Sun, Sep 24, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Cheap imports hurt US solar industry: trade panel

AP, WASHINGTON

Low-cost solar panels imported from China and other countries to the US have caused serious injury to local manufacturers, a US trade commission ruled on Friday, raising the possibility of US President Donald Trump’s administration imposing tariffs that could double the price of solar panels from abroad.

The 4-0 vote by the US International Trade Commission sets up a two-month review period in which the panel must recommend a remedy to Trump, with a final decision on tariffs expected in January next year.

White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said that Trump “will examine the facts and make a determination that reflects the best interests of the United States. The US solar manufacturing sector contributes to our energy security and economic prosperity.”

Georgia-based Suniva Inc and Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas brought the case, saying that a flood of imports have pushed them to the brink of extinction. Suniva declared bankruptcy, while SolarWorld had to lay off three-quarters of its workforce.

Cheap imports have led to a boom in the US solar industry, where rooftop and other installations have surged tenfold since 2011.

The main trade group for the solar industry and many governors oppose tariffs, saying they could cause a sharp price hike that would lead to a drop in solar installations by more than 50 percent in two years.

A group of former US military officials also urged the administration to reject solar tariffs, adding that the US Department of Defense is the nation’s largest energy consumer and follows a federal law calling for the Pentagon to procure 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Solar Energy Industries Association president and chief executive Abigail Ross Hopper called the trade commission’s vote disappointing for nearly 9,000 US solar companies and the 260,000 Americans they employ.

“Foreign-owned companies that brought business failures on themselves are attempting to exploit American trade laws to gain a bailout for their bad investments,” Hopper said, adding that potential tariffs could double the price of solar installations, lowering US demand and risking billions of US dollars in investment.

While the US solar industry employs about 260,000 people, fewer than 2,000 are involved in making solar panels like those made by Suniva and SolarWorld. More than half of solar jobs are in installation, with another 66,000 in sales, distribution and development.

About 38,000 jobs involve manufacture of inverters, racks and other products related to solar panels.

Hopper told reporters she was optimistic that Trump would not impose tariffs on solar imports.

“The president wants to create jobs and increase energy security and economic prosperity, and that is the story of the solar industry,” Hopper said. “I think that is entirely resonant with his rhetoric and his concern.”

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