Duke Energy to U.S. ITC: Trade case could “destabilize” the U.S. industry

Opponents of the trade cause currently roiling the solar industry gained a powerful ally from a source that some may have expected to come down on the other side: Duke Energy.

In a letter to U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) Secretary Lisa Barton (whose inbox these days must be perpetually full as opinions on both sides of the debate keep pouring in), Duke Energy implored the commission to reject the petition filed by Suniva/SolarWorld asking for ““global safeguard relief”, saying that a favorable finding for the petitioners would ultimately harm the very domestic solar manufacturing industry the petitioner [sic] is attempting to protect.”

Diane Denton, managing director for federal policy for Duke. said solar’s extensive growth in the past five years has, at least in part, been fueled by utilities’ ability to purchase solar energy at prices equal to or less than energy produced by traditional fossil fuels. Any price hike, such as the one that would occur should the USITC find injury and recommend retaliatory tariffs, would tip that delicate balance of back in favor of fossil fuels and would undercut the progress made by the solar industry in the United States.

The solar industry employs more than 260,000 people and produced $154 billion in economic effects in 2016, according to The Solar Foundation.

“As an active market participant in this sector, Duke Energy relies on access to solar [crystalline silicon photovoltaic] modules at globally-competitive prices to provide cost-competitive solar power to our customers,” Denton wrote. “Competitive module pricing is critical to justify future investment to our regulators and is directly correlated to our ability to grow our renewable portfolio for the benefit of customers and shareholders.”
Denton added that Duke Energy plans to invest more than $1 billion in additional solar generation capacity.

Suniva filed for bankruptcy and filed trade complaints against its global competitors under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act of 1974 with the ITC eight days later. Suniva is majority-owned by a Chinese clean energy company called Shunfeng International Clean Energy, which is part of Hong Kong property mogul Chen Kin Ming’s Asia Pacific Resources Development Investment. Shunfeng opposes Suniva’s petition. SolarWorld joined the complaint one month later after the USITC agreed to hear the case.

Little more than a week ago, both opponents of and proponents for the trade petition made their case in testimony before the USITC. The commission said it will provide its finding of injury by Sept. 22 and will provide a final report to President Trump on Nov. 13.

In a joint statement to pv magazine, Suniva and SolarWorld said:

This is a reaction to SEIA’s scare tactics of alleging hypothetical scenarios. 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.

Read the full Duke letter: