ITC to issue recommendation on solar trade action today

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After hearing days of arguments and considering dozens of filings from solar companies opposed to and in support of strong trade action, some time today the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) will issue its ruling on what form trade action should take.

However, the struggle for both sides will not be over. ITC does not make the decision as to the form of trade action, but merely recommends a decision to the Trump Administration, which will have the final say.

The widespread attention to this case is an indicator of the growing importance of solar in the United States, as the source of more than 200,000 jobs and a technology that many pin their hopes on as one of the means to decarbonize the electricity system. As such both sides have mobilized support outside of the industry, with Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) enlisting conservative think tanks such as ALEC and Heritage Foundation, and SolarWorld securing the backing of the U.S. steel industry and protectionist organizations.

This is not to say that there is balance. Anti-petition forces are much more well represented among the large companies in the solar industry, particularly racking and tracking makers and developers/construction contractors. In terms of elected officials, both sides have managed to mobilize multiple state and federal politicians, with the petitioners backed by the influential Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

On Sunday the Wall Street Journal weighed in, arguing that “the future of U.S. solar is in installation and innovation, not making basic components”, and noting that demand for solar depends upon the technology’s ability to compete on price.

This is an interesting statement from the Journal, which was one of the last of the mainstream publications to accept the emergence of solar as a viable technology for mass deployment. And while Wall Street journal maintains its opposition to subsidies for solar, it states that the solar industry “doesn’t deserve punishing tariffs”.

This makes the Journal is one of the few publications to make a strong statement on the Section 201 case (pv magazine’s statement is here), however anti-petition forces in the solar industry hired Fox News host Sean Hannity for an ad that went out in Southern states and was notable for a disconnect from the facts of the case or the industry.

It remains to be seen what if any bearing the national discourse on this case will have on the recommendations of the ITC. SEIA has questioned the legality of some of the petitioner’s requests, and GTM Research was unable to find a single previous instance of a minimum price being implemented, which is one of Suniva’s proposed remedies.

pv magazine will be bringing additional analysis on this case today, as we wait for a decision in Washington D.C.