Save U.S. manufacturing? 26 solar manufacturers sign letter opposing trade tariffs

section 201 trade petition

Twenty-six American solar manufacturers united in an open letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) urging the agency to oppose tariffs that they say would endanger American manufacturing jobs and U.S. competitiveness. The letter follows the ITC’s first public hearing on the petition on August 15, where hundreds of solar workers, elected officials, and U.S. trading partners showed up in force to oppose Suniva’s request for tariffs on imported solar parts.

“The tariffs requested by Suniva would more than double the price of solar panels in the U.S., undercutting the cost-competitiveness of solar and reversing its high growth trajectory. We would be forced to cut our manufacturing, seriously endangering manufacturing jobs at our factories,” said the letter to the ITC. “We have been building our companies to meet demand from a large and growing domestic solar market. That market is now under threat. We are true U.S. solar manufacturers and we ask that you not grant Suniva’s request for global safeguards.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Those 26 manufacturers are:

  • Aerocompact
  • Advanced Solar Products
  • Anchor Products
  • Array Technologies
  • DCE Solar
  • Ecofasten
  • Ecolibrium
  • Gamechange Solar
  • IronRidge
  • NextTracker
  • OMCO
  • PanelClaw
  • Pegasus Solar
  • Quick Mount
  • RBI Solar
  • S-5!
  • Schletter
  • SMASHsolar
  • SnapNrack
  • Sollega
  • Sunfolding
  • SunLink
  • SunModo
  • TerraSmart
  • Tessolar

“Schletter manufactures quality solar mounting systems for utility-scale, commercial, and residential PV applications. From Schletter Inc.’s headquarters in Shelby, North Carolina, the company houses state-of-the-art machinery capable of a high level of production capacities. Based in Germany, Schletter set up operation in the U.S. in 2008 with only four people. Now, we employ 200 in Shelby with plans to grow the business,” said Russell Schmit, CEO of Schletter Inc.

“If you overlap our jobs, with the processing plant and steel mill jobs related to our industry, and those jobs can circle out in the supply chain layers and layers, the jobs affected by our industry are even greater than the jobs we are counting at our respective companies,” added Schmit. “It’s hard to quantify exactly what this trade case could do, but I could see this cutting our business by half at least, so that would cost us 100 jobs or more.”

“The notion by the petitioners that increasing the cost of modules will lead to job creation is not only unconscionable, but also counter to all we have seen since the industry was born,” said Constantino Nicolaou, CEO of PanelClaw. “We urge the commission to reject this petition.”

Thoughts on Section 201 trade case while we await the ITC’s decision

The companies and domestic suppliers, which signed the letter to the ITC, employ more than 5,700 workers across the United States.

There are more than 600 facilities in the United States that build supplies for the solar industry. These companies make steel and polysilicon, inverters and trackers, cells and panels and racking and mounting systems.
If the ITC sides with Suniva, homeowners and businesses who want to adopt solar will face higher prices, and demand for solar will drastically fall. This puts at risk thousands of American manufacturing jobs at factories in every region of the country where products are built. In total, 88,000 solar jobs would reportedly be lost under Suniva’s requested remedy.

“The vast majority of Americans want solar and its continued adoption is vital to drive economic success in the U.S.,” said Michael Maulick, CEO of SunLink. “There is tremendous opportunity for future growth with new technology innovations to create more intelligent solar energy. Companies that embrace innovation and deliver cutting-edge products will thrive, but ones that don’t invest in innovation — like the two petitioners — will fail. Tariffs proposed by the petitioners will not advance the U.S. economy and only stifle continued innovation in solar.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Some final thoughts on the 201 trade case while we await the ITC’s decision

Standing on a Soap Box

Lots of people have opinions to share on the 201 trade case. Here are a few.

The International Trade Commission (ITC) held its 201 trade case hearing last week, and now the world sits back and waits to see what the ruling is. While we wait, a few solar industry CEOs made sure to send around their own views on the case.

Many start with the economic argument, citing the predictions from SEIA (you can read SEIA’s pre-hearing summary here) and GTM Research to show just how much damage could be cause by imposing these tariffs. Here’s a snippet of that from a previous article:

“In our latest report we found that between 2018 and 2022, total U.S. solar installations would fall from 72.5 GW cumulatively to just 36.4 gigawatts under a $0.78 per watt minimum module price scenario. Even more dramatic, with a $1.18 per watt minimum price, representing a $0.40 per watt cell tariff on top of a $0.78 per watt minimum module price, cumulative installations would plummet to 25 gigawatts.”

Sunnova CEO William Berger published his letter to ITC secretary Lisa Barton, which strongly encouraged a rejection of the request, pointing to the possible harms not just to the solar industry but the overall economy and middle class:

Imposing such tariffs and price floors on cells and panels will hurt American middle class families. Ac-cording to GTM and PowerScout, the average solar service end user earns $75,000 per year per family. The savings from distributed or rooftop solar energy systems help families pay mortgages, college tui-tion bills, and pay other necessary bills in life.

And it’s not just the solar industry that’s worried. We were chatting in the office with the editor of Compact Equipment, another title published by our parent company, and we started to explain the Suniva case, but he was already fully aware because manufacturers in his industry are terrified of the implications in their world too.

That lends even more credence to the argument most often mentioned against this case — how cynically it tries to hype an increase in good ol’ fashioned American manufacturing jobs merely to recoup funds for investors. The global consequences will be for someone else to sort out.

Chief development officer for Standard Solar Tony Clifford didn’t mince words in his “Suniva’s Extortionist Owners Can’t Be Rewarded” blog post explaining this perspective:

Just three months ago, Suniva’s real owners— the “Debtor in Possession,” a finance firm called SQN Capital Management (SQN)—was offering to kill off its “child” for the tidy sum of $55 million—and that is not an exaggeration. If you don’t believe me, read the letter embedded below which was placed into the record by one of SEIA’s attorneys. It reads like an extortion letter out of a bad Mafia movie.

In it, SQN tells the arm of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce representing solar manufacturers that if only the Chinese solar companies would fork over $55 million, SAS would:

• Withdraw the trade case;
• Convert the bankruptcy to Chapter 7 from Chapter 11 (which would allow them to liquidate Suniva’s assets); and, in the eloquent words of the letter
• “…the company (Suniva) would cease to exist.”

With friends like that, you can see why Suniva went bankrupt.

Does any of that sound like a company that intends to revive anything? No. SQN would apparently sell out their mother (or the U.S. solar industry) if it meant it could recover a few more bucks, and Suniva’s not even a relative.

So, when Suniva executives told the USITC they planned to make Suniva great again, they obvious-ly lied. SQN was in the hearing room, but did not elect to testify. Probably because they would have been asked some rather embarrassing questions about their May 2017 letter to the Chinese.

SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper has been saying the same:

This case, filed with the ITC by two foreign-based solar companies, both deeply in debt, is a last-ditch effort at a bailout. It could halt tens of gigawatts of U.S. solar installations through 2022. But most importantly, it will cost 88,000 Americans their jobs.

And for what reason will those American families have to suffer? To revive two companies that couldn’t make it in a thriving industry, two companies that have benefited from federal and state grants and several trade decisions al-ready, two companies owned by Chinese and German entities.
And it gets more insidious than that. The ones that stand to gain most are not even the companies themselves, but Wall Street hedge funds and other inves-tors trying to make good on bad investments.

SQN Financial, which is keeping Suniva afloat just for the duration of this case, previously requested more than $50 million from the Chinese to kill the case. Meanwhile, one of SolarWorld’s largest shareholders is a Qatari investment arm.

Both made bad bets in investing in Suniva and SolarWorld. Now, they want the ITC to impose tariffs and price floors to make their bad investments ap-pealing to another buyer, so they can get their money back. That’s the plan.

Our two cents (per kWh)

This is an early look at the Editor’s Note in our Sept/Oct issue 

 

The above context is important, but even putting that aside, filing a Section 201 trade petition knowing Donald Trump would be the ultimate decider smacks of reckless opportunism. Even conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation are calling it a step backward.

And singing the siren song of more manufacturing jobs always comes out when politically convenient. It’s intellectually insulting. Manufacturing jobs are great, but they rise and fall so easily with the market that no industry can reliably point to them. Prioritizing those theoretical jobs over the current trajectory of renewable energy and solar industry development seems hardly worth debating (not to mention all the ripple effects in industries beyond solar).

Whether solar cell manufacturing happens here or not, there is plenty of PV module and solar system innovation occurring that could lead to future breakthroughs for the overall industry — ramping up installs, increasing efficiency and driving down costs — which is really what the country should be prioritizing and focused on.

— Solar Builder magazine

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

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

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