Bipartisan group of lawmakers urge ITC to oppose solar tariffs

solar tariffs

A bipartisan group of 16 senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives sent open letters to U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein urging the ITC to reject a petition that would slap tariffs on imported solar panels and cells.

“Solar companies in our states believe the requested trade protection would double the price of solar panels,” the Senate letter to the ITC said. “Increasing costs will stop solar growth dead in its tracks, threatening tens of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and jeopardizing billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country.”

The ITC is evaluating a petition that Chinese-owned solar company, Suniva, filed with the agency in April shortly after declaring bankruptcy. It was later joined by German-owned SolarWorld, also in bankruptcy. The agency is considering whether these two companies out of more than 8,000 across the U.S. solar industry deserve tariff relief that would impact the entire market.

The letters come just days before the ITC holds its first public hearing on the petition on Aug. 15. Hundreds of solar workers from all over the country, including California, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia, will converge in Washington to explain the personal impact this case could have on their livelihoods.

The American solar industry is growing 17 times faster than the rest of the economy, and created 1 out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. last year. Implementing trade barriers would double solar prices, grinding growth to a halt and forcing 88,000 Americans — one-third of the U.S. solar workforce today — to lose their jobs just next year.

SEIA submits prehearing brief on Suniva petition to ITC — read the summary here

Lawmakers who led the letter effort to the ITC include: Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Representatives Mark Sanford (R-SC), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Pat Meehan (R-PA) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA).

“This letter shows that trade tariffs are not a red or blue state issue,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “If these barriers are implemented, one of the fastest growing U.S. industries will be halted in its tracks, thousands of Americans will lose their jobs and billions of dollars of private investment will dry up.”

“We are thankful these lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol, recognize the solar industry’s massive impact on their states’ economies, and the irreparable harm this case could bring to families and businesses across our country,” Hopper said.

— Solar Builder magazine

SEIA submits prehearing brief on Suniva petition to ITC — read the summary here

The Solar Energy Industries Association submitted its prehearing brief to the U.S. International Trade Commission ITC in the injury phase of the global safeguard investigation of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) cells and modules. Here is the executive summary:

Background

suniva seia petition

SEIA fully respects the purpose of Section 201 and the legitimacy of granting trade relief to industries that have suffered serious injury when the injury is substantially caused by an increase in imports. In this case, the facts do not warrant trade relief. In other words: good law, bad case.

Petitioners portray themselves as the backbone of U.S. solar manufacturing, yet both SolarWorld and Suniva rely on imported cells and/or modules to survive. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the U.S. solar manufacturing industry rejects the petitioners’ arguments and stands with SEIA.

Relevant Economic Conditions

The ITC should consider relevant economic conditions for the whole U.S. solar industry, not just cell manufacturers.

  • Solar is booming. The U.S. solar industry grew twenty-fold from 0.1 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2010 to approximately 1.4 percent today. It is projected to pass 3 percent in 2020 and 5 percent in 2022.
  • Solar is creating jobs. The solar industry employs 260,000 Americans, 51,000 of which joined the industry in 2016, the fourth straight year of 20+ percent workforce growth.
  • U.S. jobs manufacturing CSPV cells and modules are very important, but numerically they represent less than 1 percent of the 260,000 solar jobs, and are substantially outnumbered by other U.S. solar manufacturing jobs, which exceeded 35,000 in 2016.

Legal Standards

To prevail on the current injury portion of their case, Petitioners must demonstrate that (1) the domestic industry has suffered serious injury and (2) increased imports were a substantial cause of that injury (meaning not less significant than any other factor). They cannot do either.

GTM Research predicts solar market doomsday scenario if Suniva’s proposal is approved

There is Insufficient Evidence of Serious Injury and Increased Imports

As shown in SEIA’s brief, the domestic industry has not been seriously injured. Furthermore, the facts undermine petitioners’ claim that increases in imports have been of sufficient magnitude to account for any injury to the domestic industry. Import increases were substantial only in the utility segment of the market, where the petitioners chose not to compete.

In the utility segment, the petitioners were unable to manufacture and supply the 72-cell modules required to meet demand. Their production capacities were insufficient to handle scale requirements for those projects. Therefore, to meet utility-scale demand, increasing CSPV imports were pulled into the U.S. utility market – they did not “flood” the market –to supply developers with necessary products.

In retail segments, imports didn’t increase enough to meet the standard set under the statute, plain and simple. Moreover, the domestic industry actually increased its shipments in retail.

The Real Causes of Any Harm Suffered by The Domestic Industry Are Self-Inflicted

Petitioners not only fail to meet the legal threshold for serious injury from increased imports, they also fail to show that the substantial cause of their failings was increased imports.
Petitioners suffered from a series of damaging business decisions that had absolutely nothing to do with imports, but which did hurt their ability to compete.

As stated above, they didn’t invest in the 72-cell module production line in quantities demanded by utility developers.
They failed to develop business relationships to sell into utility-scale markets.
Although they focused their business relationships and customer acquisition on retail, they still missed major opportunities to boost business.
For example, SolarWorld and Suniva failed to fully qualify their products with major retail purchasers, such as Sunrun and Vivint.

Suniva and SolarWorld both experienced complaints from a litany of dissatisfied customers over late shipments, damaged products, and general product unreliability.

Any Decline in Market Prices Is Better Explained by Factors Other Than Imports

CSPV product – whether domestic or imported – must be priced low enough to compete with other sources on the electricity grid. In recent years, CSPV has been competing against the other dominant sources of new electric capacity: natural gas, wind and thin-film solar (not part of the ITC case). The pressure to match the costs of these other technologies, to reach “grid parity,” weighed heavily on CSPV.

Technology has been a major driver in lowering solar costs as well. Anticipated accurately by Richard Swanson, founder of SunPower Corp., since the 1970s, costs have fallen dramatically as conversion (photon to electron) efficiencies have increased continually. The falling cost of solar has become so well known that solar incentives are often structured based on this assumption – i.e., incentives are scheduled to phase down or phase out as the technology improves. This too has put downward pressure on CSPV prices, ratcheting up competition, but has nothing to do with imports.

Conclusion

Petitioners cannot satisfy the legal standards required in the injury phase of the ITC’s global safeguard investigation of CSPV cells and modules.

— Solar Builder magazine

Political solar news roundup: Utah net metering fight, ITC case stalls Minn. PV plant, SEIA adds to board

Utah rooftop solar installs in standstill

utah net metering solar

The Utah rooftop solar rate debate is reaching its peak, and thus creating uncertainty in the local market. Last November, Rocky Mountain Power proposed charging solar rooftop customers installation fees and nearly triple monthly customer charges and peak-time usage, which the solar industry and solar adopters objected to. The proposal will now be considered over the next two weeks by the Utah Public Service Commission in two hearings – one for public input and one to consider the proposal.

As the Spectrum reports, the same arguments are being put forth that are always put forth.
In a study supporting the measure, RMP researchers suggest the typical rooftop solar customer underpays their actual cost of service by about $400 per year, and with an estimated 20,000 rooftop solar customers it amounts to millions statewide that other customers must pay to make up the difference.

People with solar systems on their homes typically stay connected to the power grid, allowing them to purchase power from the utility as needed or to sell off any excess power generated back to the utility.

But RMP authors argue the utility pays full retail price for the solar-produced power, meaning that solar customers aren’t being charged equitably for capital investments or infrastructure like work crews and power lines. The buyback rate from rooftop is sometimes three times the rate the utility pays for solar from large-scale facilities.

And then the same counters are being countered by solar advocates.

Utah Clean Energy, a Salt Lake City-area think-tank, produced its own analysis of RMP’s numbers and concluded that the utility was undervaluing solar’s benefits, leaving out the fact that generation taking place on rooftops doesn’t need to be done elsewhere, lowering transmission costs and the demands for new generation facilities. The analysis concludes rooftop solar customers are actually saving the utility $1.3 million annually.

And just like its neighbor Nevada, solar adopters are preparing for the rug to be pulled out from under them.

Solar companies and their customers fear higher costs will slow the booming industry and community benefits, like cleaner air. Among them are the Searles, who scraped up the money last year to put 14 solar panels on their modest home in Rose Park.

Erin Searles says a rate hike now would undercut their investment.
“It’s kind of a punch in the gut, honestly,” she says. “You know, we did this for the right reasons. It’s, it’s completely unfair.”

Solar panel manufacturer unsure about Minnesota investment now

The Suniva trade petition hearings draw near. You can prep yourself with all of our previous coverage here:

Suniva case watch: SEIA sends out four ways you can help this week

GTM Research predicts solar market doomsday scenario if Suniva’s proposal is approved

SEIA explains plan to lead fight against Suniva petition, remedies for the future

But we travel to Minnesota where Heliene Inc., a Canadian manufacturer that just opened a state-side manufacturing plant in a jobs-starved former mining region – or at least they hope to do so, still. Much will depend on the ITC ruling.

From the Star Tribune:

The Iron Range is no stranger to trade disputes. Usually it’s on the other side, trying to stop cheap foreign steel from glutting the market. The region is only just beginning to fight its way back from a recent market slump that idled half of its mines and threw thousands of people out of work.

“I’d much rather see our friends in Canada helping out” with a new business on the Range “than some of our foreign competitors who have flooded the market with solar in the past,” said state Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, who signed on to a letter to the ITC in July against the tariffs. “We’re excited for the opportunity to make solar manufacturing work up here on the Iron Range.”

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board hopes to invest $10 million on new equipment for the plant, which eventually would employ 25 to 70 workers.

SEIA adds to board of directors

SEIA

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has added three companies to its board of directors:

  • Tradewind Energy, Inc., a Kansas City-based developer of utility scale wind and solar projects,
  • DEPCOM Power, a development, engineering, procurement, construction, operation and maintenance company for utility-scale solar and
  • McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., a national general contractor.

“The addition of these three great companies is another strong indication that the broader solar industry is stepping up to fight for this industry’s future,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “At a time when the solar industry is both enjoying significant growth and facing a trade challenge, DEPCOM, McCarthy and Tradewind Energy are making an important contribution to the whole industry, and we are thrilled to have them on board.”

Tradewind is actively developing wind and solar sites in 22 states throughout the central and eastern regions of the U.S. The company was started in 2003 and has become one of the largest independent renewable energy developers in the country.

Founded in 2013, DEPCOM Power is a “Buy America Products First”, “Hire Military Veterans First” and “Donate 10% Net Income to Charity” company leveraging a highly experienced team of solar industry veterans.

One of the oldest American-owned construction companies, McCarthy Building Companies has been helping this great nation grow project by project, delivering facilities that communities rely on and building up neighborhoods by helping those in need.

— Solar Builder magazine

Transparent utility data key factor in grid modernization, says new SEIA paper

SEIA grid modernization

Earlier this week we noted that SEPA was looking for opinions concerning the evolving role of utilities in this increasingly distributed generation world. Right on cue, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the second paper in a series on grid modernization that tackles the need for improved distribution planning and operations.

In Improving Distribution System Planning to Incorporate Distributed Energy Resources, SEIA reviews the current utility distribution planning process and highlights how two leading states, California and New York, are attempting to modernize their systems to leverage the vast capabilities of distributed energy resources.

“Grid modernization is a complex topic and through this series we’re hoping to show how every American using electricity today can benefit from smart, proactive planning,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “When done correctly, grid modernization can create new opportunities for energy sources like solar, leading to economic benefits for both utility customers and the grid.”

The white paper explores how data transparency is critical to modernizing and improving system planning. The paper also examines the progress of states that are at the forefront of this issue. Here’s a taste:

Through power flow modeling, utilities use data about the equipment on- and configuration of- their distribution system to determine where upgrades are needed for their distribution systems due to load. The same underlying distribution grid data and power flow modeling can be used to identify how much additional distributed generation (or load, such as electric vehicle fast charging) can be interconnected to the utilities’ distribution system. Transparency of these limitations both through hosting capacity maps, and the data underlying these maps, can help reduce interconnection costs and uncertainty for distributed energy resource developers.

Head here to read the full report.

— Solar Builder magazine

Suniva case watch: SEIA sends out four ways you can help this week

ITC solar trade petition

The Suniva trade petition really has put the solar industry on hold. Every person we talked to at Intersolar in July seemed in good spirits, but then couched all of their statements with “but I guess we’ll see how this Suniva thing goes.”

There is no new news on that front, but here’s a reminder of where we are at.

  • Pre-hearing brief is due to the International Trade Commission on Tuesday, August 8
  • Hearing on injury is scheduled for August 15.
  • A decision on injury will be made by Sept. 22 at the latest.
  • If injury is found, a remedy will be recommended by Nov. 13.
  • President Trump (gulp) has until Jan. 12, 2018, to decide whatever crazy thing he likes as the appropriate remedy.

The Solar Energy Industries Association has been out in front of this since the beginning and is in the process of finalizing its brief and ensuring that its witnesses for the August 15 hearing are ready to testify.

SEIA CEO Abigail Hopper sent these four requests to industry constituents this week

1. Take advantage of Congressional summer break (House) to connect with members of Congress in person in district.

2. Take to social media. Change your social media profile to this campaign picture, and hashtag all your posts with #SaveSolarJobs.

3. Contacting your Senators and U.S. Representatives and asking them to sign on to a letter to the ITC is always welcomed.

4.  SEIA is organizing a bus-in to gather as many solar workers in the room as it can to demonstrate a show of force and support from the solar industry in our opposition to the trade case. Fill out this form if you plan on attending.

GTM Research predicts solar market doomsday scenario if Suniva’s proposal is approved

— Solar Builder magazine