Feds want to know who’s behind solar tariff push

A group of anonymous solar companies will be forced to identify themselves in order for the U.S. Dept. of Commerce to consider implementing tariffs on cells and modules imported from Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

The group — known only as the American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention — alleges that the countries are circumventing the antidumping duty and countervailing duty orders (AD/CVD) on solar cells and modules from China.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Commerce requested the names of the companies behind the petition to demonstrate “substantial harm” caused by Chinese dominance of the solar supply chain and manufacturing. The parties must also identify the countries where solar cells used in their own modules are produced.

The A-SMACC will have until Oct. 6 to respond to the letter.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry’s primary lobbying and advocacy group in the U.S., expressed disappointment that Commerce didn’t dismiss the petition outright. SEIA maintains that proposed tariffs would devastate the U.S. solar industry — leading to a loss of 18 GW of solar deployment by 2023.

Last week, SEIA addressed a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Rainmondo on behalf of more than 190 solar companies, warning of the impact tariffs on these countries would have on the U.S. market. 

“I cannot overstate the dire threat that these reckless petitions are imposing on hundreds of thousands of American families,” SEIA president and CEO Abigail said. “The anonymous petitioners are asking the Department of Commerce to not only misinterpret U.S. law, but also overturn a decade of department decisions in solar trade cases, all to benefit a few anonymous petitioners at the expense of the entire U.S. solar economy. We urge Commerce to use its discretion and dismiss these frivolous petitions.”

Solar advocates fear the trade dispute could imperil the Biden administration’s goal of producing 45% of U.S. electricity supply from solar by 2050. The U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Solar Futures Study calls for the U.S. to install an average of 30 GW of solar capacity per year between now and 2025, then 60 GW per year from 2025.

Meanwhile, Rystad Energy researchers have warned that the challenges facing the global solar supply chain threaten the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement.

“The entire industry is experiencing shortages in the supply of raw and auxiliary materials, especially polysilicon and silver. Covid-19-related restrictions have not only created supply shortages of essential raw materials, but have also led to higher prices, resulting in fewer shipments and impacting revenues for industry participants,” says Audun Martinsen, Head of Energy Service Research at Rystad Energy.

Paul Wormser, VP of Technology at Clean Energy Associates, indicated that over the last 7 years, his company has inspected more than 20 GW of cell and module manufacturing in more than a dozen factories in Southeast Asia, which are impacted by the petition.

“We are encouraged by the Department of Commerce’s request for more information from the petitioners, as this response demonstrates the seriousness by which the Department is treating the petitions and its desire to make a well-informed decision,” Wormser said. “The solar supply chain is complex – and there are just too many unanswered questions, ranging from harm to, critically, where the petitioners are actually sourcing their materials from. What’s more, there is a growing concern in the solar industry that a potential investigation could result in an extended period of uncertainty that could slow both US job growth and US efforts to deploy solar in the fight to combat climate change.”

Ben Catt, CEO of Pine Gate Renewables, a North Carolina utility-scale solar developer with a portfolio just under 1 GW, believes that without improvements to the supply chain and trade landscape, the Biden administration will fall short of its solar capacity goals.

Catt said tariffs haven’t been effective in incentivizing domestic manufacturing.

“The biggest challenge that comes with a lot of these trade policy fights is just the uncertainty that we have as developers in what that means for our business model and how we’re going to advance what we’re doing,” Catt said. “Those things are incredibly difficult for us to plan our business around.”

U.S. solar module manufacturers have the capacity to produce about half of the domestic demand, according to a SEIA/Wood Mackenzie report.

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