SEIA battles Suniva, SolarWorld for hearts and minds of the U.S. ITC

The two sides in the Section 201 trade petition filed by bankrupt module manufacturer Suniva and SolarWorld USA, the U.S. subsidiary of bankrupt module manufacturer SolarWorld AG, are getting ready to rumble six days before next week’s hearing before the U.S. International Trade Commission.

In this corner: The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has come out forcefully in a pre-hearing brief condemning the trade petition and suggesting Suniva and SolarWorld brought their business collapses on themselves.

“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,” the brief said. “[They] cannot satisfy the legal standards required in the injury phase of the ITC’s global safeguard investigation of CSPV cells and modules.”

Among the alleged business mistakes SEIA cites as evidence for their contention were:

  • Failure to develop business relationships to sell into utility-scale markets, which SEIA contends elsewhere in the brief was the only segment to suffer damage from module imports.
  • Failure to invest in the 72-cell module production line in quantities demanded by utility developers.
  • Although they focused their business relationships and customer acquisition on retail, they still missed major opportunities to boost business, like qualifying their products with major retail purchasers, such as Sunrun and Vivint.

“U.S. jobs manufacturing crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) cells and modules are 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,” the brief contends. “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.”

In the opposite corner, both Suniva and SolarWorld strongly disputed the brief.

“SEIA’s statements are false and misleading.,” said Christian Hudson, counsel for Suniva.  “In fact, SEIA has previously acknowledged injury to the industry.”

“This is not about two companies” Hudson continued. “This is about nearly 30 companies who have shuttered their doors in the last five years. Is SEIA’s next step going to demean all of the workers and investors for all of those companies?”

“SEIA’s claims are demonstrably wrong on the facts and under U.S. law,” said Tim Brightbill, partner, Wiley Rein LLP, trade counsel to SolarWorld Americas. “The U.S. solar manufacturing industry and its workers have been devastated by a global surge of unfairly traded solar products. And real American workers – thousands – have lost their jobs.”

“All of SEIA’s arguments, which are devoid of facts or data, have been rejected by the U.S. ITC not once but twice already,” Brightbill continued. “That SEIA would trot them out again should be embarrassing and clearly is an insult to U.S. manufacturers and workers who have lost their jobs.”