Solar Manufacturing Battle Heats Up

Group of solar manufacturers file trade complaint with U.S. International Trade Commission

I recently received quite a few passionate "Letters to the Editor" in reference to one of our safety spent a couple of days last month at the Solar Power International Show in Dallas. It was the first time I’ve attended one of these events. I’d heard this show was big, but had no idea how big until I walked from one end of the Dallas Convention Center to the other — several times, both days!

My goal in attending was to: get a better handle on the products and services being offered in this sector; expand my knowledge of the technical challenges in the areas of manufacturing, design and installation; and learn a little more about the financial, legislative, and regulatory issues surrounding this market. The time I spent on the exhibit floor and in the conference sessions was well worth the effort. In fact, a breaking news announcement made during the show has proven to be quite controversial.

A group of seven solar manufacturers, known as the Coalition of American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) filed a trade complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Department of Commerce on October 19, claiming that subsidies in China are allowing Chinese manufacturers to illegally dump their solar products in the U.S. market and drive out other competitors. In quick response to this trade petition, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) conducted a briefing for show attendees to explain the filing and the review process. As you might imagine, this session and subsequent announcements in recent weeks have created quite a stir.

Following this filing, there’s been a flurry of activity among the manufacturers, designers, and installers in this green market sector. On November 7, the CASM announced the United Steelworkers Union is supporting its cause, along with approximately 75 other employers. CASM also claims federal trade data shows Chinese exports into the United States in July alone exceeded all of 2010. On November 8, two executives from SolarWorld Industries America, Inc., Hillsboro, Ore., testified before the ITC on behalf of the group. The Commerce Department agreed to launch an investigation into the matter. On the same day, a rival group of 25 companies formed the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE). This group notes “global competition is making affordable solar energy a reality in America and around the world,” and any “action to block or dramatically curtail solar cell imports from China places that goal at risk.” They view this trade complaint as being short-sighted and warn it could lead to higher-priced components and slow down market growth.

All of this action has forced those in the solar sector to take up sides in this heated debate. Which side will prevail? We should have an answer to this question fairly soon. On December 5, the ITC will issue a ruling on its initial findings. If it finds in favor of the CASM petition, then additional investigation work will continue.

Which side of the fence am I standing on? At first glance, I understand the concern of the CASM and agree that the Chinese government must properly disclose the subsidies it’s dishing out. On the other hand, the CASE group’s argument makes sense too. If any additional roadblocks to growth are thrown up based on this filing, then I can easily see this leading to a market slowdown. So I guess I’m sitting on the fence right now instead of standing on either side of it. How about sharing your thoughts with me and moving me out of my position of limbo?

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