Clash of the coalitions: Pro-petition alliance adds new member

Another pro-manufacturing alliance is trumpeting its support of the Suniva/SolarWorld Section 201 trade petition, whose injury phase will close this week with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) announces its decision on Friday.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), which claims to be a labor-business coalition of the United Steelworkers and steel companies (though there is no list of steel companies involved on the website), filed a request with the USITC asking them to decide in favor of the petitioners and then impose significant sanctions on international solar module manufacturers.

Group spokesman Jet Moody declined a request to give company names, saying that the group does not typically reveal names because it relies on the companies themselves to do so.

“As a domestic labor-business partnership, our members and advocates are keenly aware of the impact of exceedingly high levels of imports on domestic production and jobs,” the AAM wrote in its letter to the USITC. “In the specific case of solar cells and panels, it would be devastating to lose a productive domestic manufacturing capacity just as solar installations are scaling up in the United States.”

AAM joins the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA) and other pro-labor groups in supporting the Suniva/SolarWorld trade petition, which alleges that international competition has destroyed solar module manufacturing in the United States.

After filing for bankruptcy in April, Suniva filed a complaint under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act of 1974 asking for “global safeguard relief” from imports of crystalline silicon solar PV cells and modules. SolarWorld, which is suffering from its own financial difficulties, joined the petition a month later.

“The growing U.S. solar installation market would be well served by vibrant domestic competition rather than an overreliance on imports from China,” the AAM letter says. “Allowing Chinese imports to destroy the remaining market share for domestic solar cells and panel manufacturing would ultimately disrupt the possibility of a truly competitive market and make it more subject to the vicious cycles of overcapacity and overconsumption that plague China’s government-driven economy.”

“A rules-based trading system is only as good as its rules and willingness to enact remedies where warranted,” the letter says.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, along with a coalition of industry partners as well as outside conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, have lobbied against the petition, arguing that it would cost the industry at least 88,000 downstream jobs in installation and other jobs. According to The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) National Solar Jobs Survey, the industry currently employs more than 260,000 people.

TSF also reported that the industry produced $154 billion in economic activity for 2016.

While the United Steelworkers support the petition, the segment of the solar industry that uses the most steel stands strongly in opposition. In August, 27 mounting manufacturers wrote to the USITC asking for the prompt dismissal of the petition. In their letter, they wrote:

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. In contrast, Suniva and SolarWorld combined currently employ fewer than 500 workers and falling.

We make competitive, innovative, high-quality products in the U.S. for U.S. customers.However, the remedies sought by the two petitioners pose a major threat to our U.S. businesses.If end customers face higher prices for PV modules because of a new trade barrier, demand forsolar energy systems built with our domestically manufactured products (and, thus, U.S. jobs )will be severely damaged.

Still, as the industry holds its breath waiting to see whether the ITC will decide the module manufacturers have sufficiently proven that they’ve been injured (which, if the decision is in favor of the petitioners, will then trigger the penalty phase of the proceeding), SolarWorld Americans welcomed AAM’s support.

“We greatly appreciate the strong support of the Alliance for American Manufacturing on this critically important case,” said Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas. “It is time for us to come together as an industry to rebuild America’s solar manufacturing base, to ensure that it remains a leader for future generations.”

A report by the USITC staff indicated that 30 U.S. solar-panel producers ceased manufacturing operations from 2012 to 2016, the period under investigation. During this period, global imports increased nearly five-fold. This surge was led by China, whose imports rose by more than 700%, according to ITC data.

No one can predict exactly what will happen on Friday, but it should be noted that there are only four commissioners on the USITC at the moment, meaning at 2-2 vote will mean a default decision that injury has occurred. Then the USITC will recommend possible remedies to President Donald J. Trump on Nov. 13, after which he can decide what he wants to do. Among the options are to follow the USITC recommendations, ignore them entirely and impose his own remedies, or decide not to do anything.