Solar trade case - Smart Energy Decisions

Solar  -  October 13, 2017

First Solar, Tesla take opposite sides of trade battle

Arizona-based solar modules manufacturer First Solar has taken the side of two financially stressed panel manufacturers that have called for federal tariffs on imported solar modules, putting itself directly opposite the side of the Solar Energy Industries Association on the issue. 

The U.S. International Trade Commission on Sept. 22 made its first decision on the high-profile case that has major implications for the country's solar industry, voting 4-0 to find that imports of low-cost solar panels are damaging domestic solar manufacturers. Since then, opposing sides of the petition filed earlier this year by Suniva and SolarWorld have been proposing potential remedies to the ITC ahead of its deadline to submit a formal recommendation to the White House. 

First Solar, in its Oct. 10 filing, said the price of imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells "have been anything but rational," and that it was "disappointed that some parties, including the Solar Energy Industries Association, of which we are a member, have not engaged constructively on this issue. The company noted that it had stopped manufacturing the cells in 2016, resulting in the elimination of 400 manufacturing jobs at an Ohio facility, after determining it could not competitively continue to do so.  

The company said it incurred operating losses of $502.59 that year, but that the damage "would have been much worse" if it hadn't changed its strategy. Utility Dive reported Oct. 11 that the company blamed the low prices on "massive production overcapacity in Asia, as well as the fact that producers are not subject to the same market and capital constraints as domestic manufacturers."

In its own filing, Tesla, which recently acquired solar energy services company SolarCity, sided with SEIA's arguments against the petition. The company expressed worry over the broader market impact of imposing tariffs and said any import restrictions arising from the proceeding "could negatively impact Tesla's U.S. production plans," Utility Dive reported. 

The ITC has until Nov. 13 to make its remedy recommendations to the Trump administration, which will have two months to reach a final policy. Bloomberg News reported Sept. 22 that the move hands Trump "an opportunity to score political points on three priorities: He can slap a tariff on China and argue he's protecting U.S. jobs, all while undermining the economics of an industry that competes with coal."

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