On this episode of solar hoarders: Developers gobble panels before possible price hike

The hollowed out eyes of solar developers at Solar Power International earlier this week told the tale: The Suniva effect, first identified by pv magazine, is taking its toll.

Now Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) confirms our earlier reporting (suggested by Inovateus  Solar in July and reinforced by Standard Solar earlier this week), saying panel shortages are causing project delays eight days before the critical U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) renders its decision in the injury phase of the Suniva/SolarWorld Section 201 trade complaint that could significantly raise panel prices.

As 2017 comes to a close and developers start planning for what was expected to be a robust project pipeline next year, developers are scrambling to find panels in case the USITC agrees with the petitioners that they have suffered significant injury from international competition and recommends that stringent tariffs be imposed. Suniva and SolarWorld are asking for tariffs that would raise prices to $0.78/watt, up from the $0.45/watt currently reported by BNEF.

As Jefferson Gerwig, purchasing manager for Indiana-based developer Inovateus Solar told pv magazine in July:

It’s hard to bid on projects right now because of the uncertainty of what module prices will be for next year We’ve seen a lot of people at [Intersolar North America] who have these projects they are ready to develop. Any deal signed here, though, has to come with a big asterisk, saying ‘these prices are subject to change depending on the Section 201 trade case.’

BNEF reports that developers are reporting prices have swelled 40% in the past four months, making some projects uneconomical to build, if they can find panels at all. And while there are shortages that occur most years toward the end as suppliers sell out their final inventory, this year the shortages started much earlier.

But the heated debate over the trade petition, which culminated in sharp exchanges during UITC testimony from both sides, is expected to start winding down starting on Sept. 22, the date the USITC delivers its injury decision. Once that occurs, the commission will deliver a final report to President Donald J. Trump on Nov. 13, after which he will, under his almost limitless powers to impose tariffs, decide what, if any, action the United States will take.

The debate over panel prices started in April, when panel manufacturer Suniva filed for bankruptcy on April 18 and filed trade complaints against its Chinese competitors under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act of 1974 with the ITC eight days later. SolarWorld joined the petition in early May.