Taxing Solar Panel Imports
It’s been widely reported in the solar trade press, but we feel the solar import tariff petition has received surprisingly little coverage by mainstream media, given the severe harm it could do to America’s solar energy industry.
Don’t be fooled by the small percentage of our total energy generated by sunlight to date – solar power is growing at breakneck speed, representing nearly half of all new power capacity built in the US last year.
Arcadia is committed to fighting against import tariffs on solar panels, which could double the cost of solar panels overnight, and significantly impede our progress towards switching to clean, renewable solar power.
Here’s what’s happening, and how the solar industry is responding.
On April 26, a solar panel manufacturer called Suniva filed a petition to impose imports on solar panels brought into the US. Suniva is owned by the Chinese firm, Shunfeng International, but manufactures panels from its Georgia factory. Suniva has been experiencing significant financial struggles, and at first glance, it would seem the trade petition pursues a simple strategy of preventing competition from manufacturers outside the US.
The Full Story
Regardless of one’s views on trade protections – and without even get into the implications of a solar panel import tariff – there is a much darker motive behind this story.
As reported by PV Magazine’s Frank Andorka,
In a shocking and bizarre twist to bankrupt panel manufacturer Suniva’s potentially devastating trade-protection petition, the company’s biggest U.S. creditor told the Chinese that for the right price, it could make the trade complaint disappear.
More on this nefarious plot will undoubtedly emerge today, as the International Trade Commission begins hearing testimony about the petition. Learn more about the status of this case here.
For many reasons, the trade petition would do significant damage to the US solar industry, by making it much more expensive to go solar. Manufacturing the panels is only one component of this fast-growing industry. Low cost panels enables more US steelworkers to build racking and mounting hardware, more US engineers to design projects, more US installation companies to employee local install crews and electricians, and more US software companies to create new ways to optimize and benefit from solar energy. That’s what Arcadia’s 36 employees in Washington, D.C. have done, by creating the first nationwide community solar program: browse solar projects and savings opportunities here.
This is why Arcadia is taking a stand against the solar trade petition. A tax on imported solar panels may help one company (or one company’s creditors), but it is bad for the US solar industry, and bad for US solar employees. The text of our comments to the International Trade Commission is pasted below.
Arcadia Comments to the ITC
August 11, 2017
The Honorable Lisa R. Barton
U.S. International Trade Commission
500 E Street SW
Washington, DC 20436
Dear Secretary Barton,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this Petition for Global Safeguard Relief Pursuant to Sections 201-202 of the Trade Act of 1974 – Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Cells and Modules (the “Petition”).
Arcadia is providing this comment to voice our strong opposition to the Petition brought forward by Suniva, Inc. (“Suniva”) and SolarWorld Americas Inc. (“SolarWorld”) (collectively, the “Petitioners”) to the International Trade Commission (the “Commission”).
Arcadia is a renewable energy software and technology company headquartered in Washington, DC, with 36 full-time employees, serving more than 30,000 customers nationwide. A strong and growing domestic U.S. solar industry is vital to our business, our employees, and our customers. Arcadia’s proprietary software powers the first nationwide community solar program, known as the Portable Panel®, which permits customers in all 50 states to remotely subscribe to and benefit from the production of domestic U.S. solar electricity. In recognition of this innovation, made possible by America’s strong, domestic solar industry, Arcadia’s Portable Panel® product was named a finalist for Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas of 2017 award. The Portable Panel® relies on a thriving domestic solar industry, comprised primarily of small- to mid-sized companies involved in manufacturing, engineering, construction, and other services that create jobs and economic opportunity across the domestic solar industry.
The Section 201 trade law is an important component of U.S. trade law, but these Petitioners do not merit the trade protections provided under this provision. The petitioners’ proposed tariffs and price floors would cause severe harm to the United States solar industry by causing job losses across the United States, particularly among small and medium sized manufacturers.
Suniva, a company that has declared bankruptcy and is owned by Shunfeng International, headquartered in China, and SolarWorld, a company whose German parent company SolarWorld AG has filed for bankruptcy, are makers of solar cells and modules that are struggling to stay afloat. These two companies are seeking government protection through filing the Petition. If Suniva and SolarWorld can claim Section 201 protections to keep their struggling companies afloat, then the bar for future trade cases would be dangerously low for any American manufacturers in similar circumstances.
As significant, the proposed remedies will significantly harm American manufacturers of solar parts and panels. The Petition seeks a tariff of 40 cents per watt on all foreign-made solar cells, with a floor price of 78 cents per watt on all panels made with foreign inputs. According to Wall Street analysts, the proposed remedies would double the price of solar panels in the U.S. The cost of starting a project in the U.S. would rise dramatically, slashing demand for solar projects and harming solar energy’s position in the U.S. electricity market.
Both the size and scope of these tariffs will affect U.S. solar manufacturers. The U.S. solar industry employs roughly 260,000 workers, more than 38,000 of whom manufacture a wide range of solar components, such as racking systems and inverters. In contrast, Suniva employed only 260 workers when it declared bankruptcy. This trade petition threatens to cut off the cells and modules that form the basic ingredients for the entire solar supply chain ecosystem, placing those 260,000 U.S. jobs at risk.
Solar energy is one of the most promising sectors in the American economy, providing good jobs
and valuable products at low cost to consumers. The industry is valued at $23 billion and was the
top source of new U.S. electricity generation in 2016. Last year, the solar industry created 51,000
jobs, approximately one in every 50 new jobs created in the United States. Imposing tariffs on such a rapidly growing industry that can compete both domestically and globally would constrain America’s technological and economic prowess.
We hope the ITC will take these facts into account and end this Section 201 investigation. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Joel Gamoran, Director of Community Solar, Arcadia.
Director of Community Solar, Arcadia