Miltary vets beg USITC to dismiss trade petition

The Department of Defense (DoD) is plenty busy these days, what with tensions building between the United States and North Korea, and a potential conflict coming with Iran. Given those two situations, you might think the armed forces wouldn’t have time to bother themselves with the solar trade complaint currently pending before the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC).

You would be wrong.

As the solar industry’s D-Day looms (the USITC will make its initial injury finding in the Suniva/SolarWorld Section 201 trade case on Friday), 14 former military veterans – including a retired Rear Admiral and a retired Air Force Lieutenant General, as well as three former energy advisors to the Army, Navy and Air Force – filed a letter with the commissions saying that a finding in favor of the petitioners could have significant and negative effects on military readiness and effectiveness.

“The proposed tariffs and minimum prices would double the cost of imported solar cells and modules used in utility-scale defense energy projects,” the letter reads. “This dramatic cost increase could potentially jeopardize the financial viability of planned and future solar investments on or near domestic military bases.”

Currently, the U.S. military is the single largest consumer of energy in the country, and the officials argue that it’s essential they have uninterrupted power, not only to prepare for military operations but also to serve as emergency response centers for the surrounding communities, a little-realized function that has been dramatically illustrated in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

According to the letter, the DoD reported 701 utility outages on military bases that lasted eight hours or more – the majority of which were electrical in nature, which is why the military officials believe solar energy is so critical to their ongoing missions.

Even as the rest of the country has come to understand the importance of solar electricity to the country over the past five years, the U.S. military was one of the first to recognize its potential to help combat Climate Change and increase electricity resilience for their personnel. Since 2007, various sub-agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense have been issuing reports on the potential impacts of climate change every year since 2007, and in 2009 the department set a mandate requiring that 25% of total energy come from renewable energy sources – a more aggressive target than any U.S. state at the time.

As part of this 25% goal, the military seeks to install 3 GW of solar PV by 2025.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) welcomed the support from the DoD.

“We are fighting this trade petition on behalf of the solar industry and the thousands of others who will be negatively affected if tariffs are approved,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “The Department of Defense, amply represented in this letter, is one of the largest solar customers in America.”

“We hope the USITC recognizes the impact this could have not only on the solar industry, but also on military veterans – many of whom our industry employs – and our nation’s security and economic vitality,” Hopper added.

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

Do we really want to turn over the safety of our energy grid to China and it’s proxies?  With more and more foreign made solar cells/panels containing smart chips, these are ripe for hacking by foreign powers.  One need look no further than the U.S. federal indictments against members of China’s military for hacking SolarWorld for an example of this risk.

On Friday, the entire solar industry will turn its eyes to the USITC, who will issue its injury ruling in the Suniva/SolarWorld Section 201 trade petition. If it finds injury has been done to the solar manufacturing industry, it will deliver a final report to President Donald J. Trump on Nov. 13 with its recommendations on what remedies it believes should be imposed.

Suniva filed for bankruptcy on April 18 and filed trade complaints against its international competitors under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act of 1974 with the ITC eight days later. It asks for “global safeguard relief” from imports of crystalline silicon solar PV cells and modules. SolarWorld joined the complaint a month later.