Advocacy and strategy: An interview with SEIA CEO Abigail Hopper

pv magazine: The last time I interviewed you was at SPI, before the injury finding on the Section 201 case. How have the injury determination and the remedy hearing informed SEIA’s strategy?

Abby Hopper: I don’t think any of us were surprised by the injury finding. I think we talked a little at SPI about the high bar that we had to cross. And so our strategy has been informed by what we assumed that the president would be the ultimate decision maker on this.

Given the injury finding and the hearing, which we all attended, it was clear to me that the commission, and the chair, felt some obligation to do something to address the injury that they had found. So the proposal that we put forward is I think a thoughtful way to do that.

The hearing elucidated other things. We had clarity for the first time on SolarWorld’s position, more clarity on Suniva’s position, and we got their initial thoughts on our proposal. And then this idea of an incredibly restrictive quota was introduced for the first time in SolarWorld’s pre-hearing brief. That obviously would be stifling to the industry. We will be pushing hard against that.

 

pv magazine: One of the things that I note is the enormous gulf between the proposals of the petitioners, and SEIA’s response. SEIA’s response would be a 1% import licensing fee, whereas the petitioners are proposing tariffs that would double the cost of cells and modules – as only one part. Given that the commission wants to do something, what are your thoughts on bridging that gap?

Hopper: I think we put on a very strong case, and a very credible case that the kind of relief at the level that the petitioners are requesting would have a devastating impact on the solar industry. I don’t think anyone credible disputes that.

And so I think that the commission has a healthy understanding of that fact, just from a legal point of view. The actual numbers that the petitioners are asking are illegal, and I think we have a strong legal basis for that, in terms of what it legally allowed, which would be ten cents on modules and sixteen cents on cells. The gap is important.

And then in making the point, and I think the commission really picked up on this, as it was the first question out of the chairwoman’s mouth: What is the adjustment plan? How is this industry going to be able to restructure and compete? I found the petitioner’s responses lacking, I don’t think they had any coherent strategy or plan.

And we have put forward a proposal that would put dollars in their pockets, whereas they have not. And I think knitting those proposals together, a way in which to provide money for the industry, which isn’t available through other means, is our advocacy job. It is an aspect which makes it much more compelling.

As these commissioners are thinking about what do we do, and how can we solve the injury, providing funding for the industry to recover seems to be one fo the most obvious ways. We have shown them how they can do that.

 

pv magazine: I also noted the commissioners specifically asking SEIA which of the remedy proposals would be least damaging to the industry, and I’m not sure they were including SEIA’s proposal in that. Can you comment on the three proposals by the petitioners (tariffs, minimum price and quotas), and tell us which you consider to be the most dangerous to the U.S. market?

Hopper: I think any of the three would be very damaging, especially at the level the petitioners have requested. A hard quota at the low level that the petitioners have proposed – that would put an end to the growth in this industry. And it would take us back to levels that we haven’t seen in a long time. 5.7 GW? Plus the small amount of domestic capacity. That would be devastating to our industry.

 

pv magazine: I understand that SEIA and some leading solar executives, who are SEIA members, spent Wednesday lobbying in DC. Can you give me an overview of the lobbying activity and strategy that SEIA has undertaken to reach the Trump Administration?

Hopper: We learned from past 201 cases and we and we learned from conversations with this administration that what usually happens is that there is an inter-agency working group assembled to vet the issue and come up with a recommendation for the president. The parties to that in the past have been led by the United States Trade Representative, and include Department of Commerce, Treasury, the White House, and in this case, given that it is an energy issue, the Department of Energy.

We have been visiting people at all of those agencies to make sure that they are aware of the issue, they are aware of the facts and the impacts that a remedy would have. And we have been talking with them about our proposal to solve this a different way. We continued with that advocacy on Wednesday with the White House, department of Treasury, the Department of Commerce, the Department o Energy, and with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

It was a long day.

 

pv magazine: Anything else about the current state of the 201 case and what SEIA is doing that you think our readers should know?

Hopper: We talked about this a little the other day, about how we are trying to get this message to the president himself. And we are trying to do this a couple of different ways. Obviously by making sure the people who advise him are fully briefed, and understand the issues is one way. But also thinking about the president gets information, and the kind of news sources that he watches and listens to, we are taking our message to those avenues as well.