D-Day: USITC to rule on Section 201, injury phase

The U.S. International Trade Commission is expected to vote at 11 a.m. today on whether significant damage has been done to the solar cell and module manufacturing segment of the U.S. solar industry at the behest of two companies – Suniva and SolarWorld. Here’s how we got here:

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March 22: Suniva lays off 131 workers in Georgia, closes Michigan plant

The first sign that Suniva was in trouble was mass layoffs at its Georgia headquarters and the closing of a plant in Saginaw, Michigan.

April 11: Suniva violated WARN Act provisions in layoffs, employees say

The affected employees file a lawsuit, saying the company did not provide them the required warnings of the layoffs.

April 18: Suniva files for chapter 11 bankruptcy

One week after the class-action lawsuit was filed, Suniva officially files for bankruptcy. A judge puts a hold on the employees’ suit until the bankruptcy is discharged – something that still has not happened five months later.

April 26: Suniva petition could start new global solar trade war

Suniva files a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act of 1974. The petition, which would eventually come to be known by the shorthand “the Section 201 trade case” calls for “global safeguard relief” from imports of crystalline silicon solar PV cells and modules, which it said drove the company into bankruptcy. Suniva asks for a minimum import price of $0.78 per watt for modules and $0.40 for cells.

May 18: Report: Suniva case could slash U.S. PV market 60% by 2021 (with chart)

The first of two reports – this one from IHS Markit – claims a decision in favor of Suniva could slash the industry 60%, a claim Suniva vigorously denies.

May 22: Squeeze attempt undercuts Suniva’s trade case (FULL LETTER EMBEDDED)

One of Suniva’s creditors, SQN Capital Management, offers to make the Section 201 case if the Chinese would just pony up $55 million – or the amount of money Suniva owed them. As part of the deal, SQN promises to dissolve Suniva.

May 23: U.S. trade commission moves ahead with Suniva investigation

After consideration of the facts, the USITC agrees to consider the case, setting dates for testimony from interested parties on Aug. 15, as well as deadlines for its finding of injury and its report to President Donald J. Trump. The industry reacts with surprise but gears up for what it expects to be a bruising fight.

May 25: SolarWorld Americas joins Suniva’s trade petition

In a reversal of its previously stated coolness to Suniva’s trade petition, SolarWorld Americas becomes a co-petitioner in the case. Not long after this announcement, SolarWorld Americas’ parent company, SolarWorld AG, files for bankruptcy in Germany. Its U.S. subsidiary tells its customers that it plans to continue operating, saying it was business as usual at its Oregon manufacturing plant.

May 31: Congressmen trumpet support for Suniva’s trade petition (Read the full letter here)

In the first of what would eventually seem like endless letters of support and opposition, Congressmen from the home districts of Suniva’s operations file a letter with the USITC offering full-throated support for the petition.

July 13: Dispatches from Intersolar North America: The “Suniva effect” is real – and it’s already started

While the USITC was conducting its investigation, the effects of the trade case are already being felt in the industry. Developers find it difficult to sign contracts for future projects because of the uncertainty surrounding possible hikes in module prices as a result of the case. In addition, developers start buying modules in bulk, causing a shortage three months earlier than during a typical year.

July 25: Coalition coalesces around fighting Suniva’s Section 201 trade case

A coalition of solar companies, led by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), team with free-market conservatives to form the Energy Trade Action Coalition, vowing to lobby Congress, President Trump and the U.S. International Trade Commission to derail the petition.

August 9: Suniva, SolarWorld claim trade protections could generate 114,800 solar jobs

SEIA battles Suniva, SolarWorld for hearts and minds of the U.S. ITC

The co-petitioners release an internally produced study that claims a successful conclusion to the trade case (meaning a finding in their favor) would create jobs, not destroy them. SEIA fires back that the bankruptcies of the two companies were the result of bad business decisions, not international competition.

Aug. 14: 69 legislators pressure USITC to reject trade petition

A bipartisan coalition of U.S. legislators file a letter with the USITC asking the commission to throw out the petition and find no injury has been done to Suniva/SolarWorld.

August 15: ITC report: 26 U.S. module makers closed in the past five years

SEIA, allies slam Section 201 petitioners as bad businesses

Suniva, SolarWorld describe “manufacturing bloodbath”

Both sides in the trade dispute testify before the USITC, offering vastly differing views of the effects of the trade case on the industry. The testimony comes on the heels of a USITC staff report that says 27 solar module manufacturers have gone bankrupt since 2012.

August 23: Letter beseeches the U.S. ITC: Please don’t destroy our businesses

Solar racking, tracking and mounting systems manufacturers file a note with the USITC saying a decision in favor of the petitioners will send their production into tailspins.

August 25: Duke Energy to U.S. ITC: Trade case could “destabilize” the U.S. industry

One of the country’s largest utilities comes out against the petition, arguing a favorable decision could destabilize the industry.

September 5: Steel industry throws support to SolarWorld, Suniva trade case

The battle of endorsements continues as steel manufacturers throw their support to Suniva/SolarWorld. The steel industry was the last one to file a Section 201 case successfully, though a  post-mortem study of the results of the case show mixed results at best.

September 8: Trump likely to impose solar tariffs if USITC recommends them

Reports emerge that if the USITC recommends tariffs, President Trump will impose them, though how steep the tariffs remains unclear.

September 18: Clash of the coalitions: Pro-petition alliance adds new member

The Alliance for American Manufacturing, a group that claims to be a coalition of unions and manufacturers, adds its name to a growing number of groups supporting Suniva/SolarWorld’s Section 201 trade petition.

September 20: SEIA to the USITC: ‘What’s next?’ as Suniva/SolarWorld decision looms

SEIA files a letter with the USITC arguing that Suniva and SolarWorld haven’t filed restructuring plans that show they have a path forward if the USITC decides in their favor, which they say invalidates the entire petition. The companies counter with a letter of their own, saying no such requirement exists.

September 21: Miltary vets beg USITC to dismiss trade petition

Arguing that a decision in favor of Suniva/SolarWorld could impair military readiness and resiliency, 14 former military personnel sent a letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission yesterday asking them to dismiss the Section 201 trade complaint.