Letter beseeches the U.S. ITC: Please don’t destroy our businesses

The list of signatories to yesterday’s letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) Secretary asking for the prompt dismissal of the Suniva/SolarWorld Section 201 trade petition reads like a Solar Power International list of mounting manufacturers.

PanelClaw. IronRidge. Schletter. Unirac. Ecolibrium Solar. Gamechange Solar. And the list goes on (see below).

In all, 27 mounting companies wrote an impassioned letter to Secretary Lisa Barton imploring her to reject the two module manufacturers’ request for relief from foreign competition under the previously obscure Section 201 clause in a 1974 trade law. They said the effect of a finding in favor of the plaintiffs could jeopardize the workers they employ which, they argue in the letter, are more than 10-times the number of people that the combined petitioners employ.

“Our companies and our domestic suppliers below support more than 5,700 manufacturing workers across the United States manufacturing the mounting equipment that literally holds solar energy systems together,” the letter says. “In contrast, Suniva and SolarWorld combined currently employ fewer than 500 workers and falling.”

After dueling testimony in front of the USITC last week in front of the commission – some of it heated – the letter is clearly designed to bolster opposition to the case, the first phase of which will be decided next month.

Currently, the USITC is investigating “whether crystalline silicon photovoltaic (“CSPV”) cells (whether or not partially or fully assembled into other products) are being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury, or the threat thereof, to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported articles.”

The commission’s recommendations in the injury phase are to be released on Sept. 22. President Donald J. Trump will receive a final report on Nov. 13, at which point he can follow the commission’s recommendations, or ignore them completely and do anything he likes.

Four months ago, Suniva filed for bankruptcy and then filed trade complaints against its international competitors mere days. It asks for “global safeguard relief” from imports of crystalline silicon solar PV cells and modules. SolarWorld joined the complaint a month later amidst its own bankruptcy turmoil as its German parent company filed for protection.

Though it has promised to soldier on, SolarWorld USA is reportedly up for sale as the new buyer of the company’s German assets has cut the company loose to fend for itself. Timothy Brightbill, SolarWorld’s lawyer and spokesman, said all options are on the table regarding what might happen to the company.

“SolarWorld Americas is undergoing an [merger-and-acquisition] process to determine the best solution,” Brightbill said in a statement. “The process is open-ended and may or may not include a sale. All options are on the table, and the company will carefully review what is best for the long-term success of the U.S. business.”

“In the meantime, SolarWorld Americas plans to see the safeguards through to its conclusion, in order to restore our company and rebuild US solar manufacturing that has been crushed by the global import surge,” Brightbill added.

In a joint statement exclusively to pv magazine regarding the mounting manufacturers’ letter, Suniva and SolarWorld said:

This is a reaction to SEIA’s scare tactics of alleging hypothetical losses.  We do not speak in hypothetical’s because it is a fact that nearly 30 U.S. crystalline-silicon solar technology manufacturing sites have closed down since 2012, a period in which imports of such products surged by nearly five-fold, according to a staff report by the ITC.  The injury and the cause of the injury is undeniable.