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

Solar industry would lose 88,000 jobs if Suniva’s trade protections are imposed

solar jobs

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade association for the solar industry, is estimating that the American workforce would lose 88,000 jobs, about one-third of the current U.S. solar workforce, if Suniva gets the trade protections proposed in its petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).

This spring, the Georgia-based company asked the ITC to place a tariff on imported solar cells and set a price floor for virtually all imported panels,arguing that it cannot compete with foreign rivals. Suniva, which is majority-owned by a Chinese firm, filed the petition after declaring bankruptcy in April.

Among the states standing to lose the most jobs include California with an expected job loss of 15,800, another 7,000 jobs would be lost in South Carolina, and 6,300 in Texas, according to preliminary estimates by SEIA.

Despite Suniva’s claims that its move is meant to protect domestic manufacturing, SEIA found that U.S. solar manufacturing jobs will actually decline if the petition is granted.

“These new estimates show the potential damage to the solar industry as a result of this petition,” said SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “Rather than help the industry, the action would kill many thousands of American jobs and put a stop to billions of dollars in private investment.”

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

“Our estimates show that even in the states where Suniva and its lone supporter, SolarWorld, have operations, if the petition succeeds, there would be many times more jobs lost than expected gains for two struggling companies,” Hopper said.

The case comes after a record-breaking year of solar energy growth in 2016 when industry jobs grew by 25 percent year-over-year and electricity generating capacity nearly doubled.

SEIA forecasts that solar jobs would be lost in all segments of the market. The utility-scale market, which has paced the industry’s growth for years, would see jobs shrink by 60 percent, while residential and commercial employment would fall by 44 percent and 46 percent, respectively, SEIA said.

“Suniva’s trade petition has the potential to negatively impact more than a thousand hardworking Swinerton installers throughout the United States, with emerging utility-scale markets taking the hardest hit,” said George Hershman, senior vice president and general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy. “Should the petition be approved, those markets would no longer be cost-competitive, killing a growing economy and a real opportunity for job creation.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Top 4 takeaways from Q1 2017 Solar Market Insight Report

Nevada solar utility

Following rapid growth across the industry in 2016, the United States solar market added 2,044 megawatts of new capacity in the first quarter of 2017, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report. Q1 was the sixth straight quarter in which more than two gigawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) and more than one gigawatt of utility-scale PV was installed.

The residential and non-residential PV markets are both expected to experience year-over-year growth, even as the quarterly numbers saw a drop from last year’s record-setting pace, the report said.

“The solar market clearly remains on a strong upward trajectory,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Solar is delivering more clean energy, adding jobs 17 times faster than the U.S. economy and creating tens of billions of dollars in investment. With its cost-competitiveness, we know solar will continue to play a growing role in America’s energy portfolio.”

Here’s what to know beneath those big numbers.

1. Utility-scale growth, price declines continue

As installations grow, prices continue to fall to new lows, with utility-scale system prices dropping below the $1 per watt barrier for the first time.

The utility-scale segment continues to drive the market, representing more than half of all PV installed during the quarter. Much of the capacity comes from projects that were originally slated for completion in 2016, but ended up being pushed back due to the extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit. And this entire year is expected to benefit from those “spill-over” projects.

“Utility solar is on the cusp of another boom in procurement,” said Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar. “The majority of utility solicitations are focused on maximizing the number of projects that can come online with a 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit in 2019, or later by leveraging commence construction rules.”

2. Declines in California means declines overall

More than a half-gigawatt of residential PV was installed in the quarter, down 17 percent from the first quarter of last year. Part of the slowdown can be attributed to national installers pulling back operations in unprofitable geographies and customer acquisition challenges in more mature residential state markets like California.

According to the report, residential PV installations in California will fall year-over-year for the first time this decade. Despite this, California remains the largest state market for residential solar installations.

3. Community solar is saving the non-residential segment

The non-residential solar market—which includes commercial, industrial and community solar installations—grew 29 percent year-over-year, but was down 39 percent from a record high fourth quarter 2016.

The report highlighted Minnesota’s growing community solar market. The state nearly doubled its cumulative community solar deployment in Q1.

Several other states not as well known for their solar markets saw particularly large jumps in installations this quarter, including Idaho and Indiana. Meanwhile, emerging state markets such as Utah, Texas and South Carolina continued their growth.

Read more about that Minnesota community solar boom in our Special Report:

Special Report: How to Make Money in the Midwest

4. None of this matters until the trade dispute is settled

GTM Research forecasts that 12.6 gigawatts will come online in 2017, 10 percent less than 2016’s boom. Total installed U.S. solar PV capacity is expected to nearly triple over the next five years, and by 2022, more than 18 gigawatts of solar PV capacity will be installed annually.

However, downside risk looms over the long-term outlook for U.S. solar, due to a new trade dispute initiated by Suniva.

According to the report, if Suniva’s petition for a minimum silicon PV module price of 78 cents per watt is successful, it could raise system costs between 13 and 35 percent, depending on segment. While it remains unclear how the International Trade Commission will ultimately rule on this petition by Suniva, the approval of the petition as initially filed would result in substantial downside revisions to the GTM Research forecast across all three segments.

 

— Solar Builder magazine