And the battle rages on, even after most of the main players have retired from the field.
As the January 26 deadline approaches for Trump to decide whether to impose tariffs on module and cell imports at the behest of bankrupt module maker Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, elected representatives are trying to whisper the last word in the president’s ear.
A group of eight representatives and another group of three senators have sent identical letters to President Donald Trump urging him to impose “strong and effective remedies” to protect solar module and cell manufacturing from foreign competition.
Interestingly, the geographic spread of the reflects the home base of one of the petitioners and the location of a significant factory of the other. Seven of the letters’ signatories hail from Oregon, where petitioner SolarWorld is located, or from Michigan, where bankrupt petitioner Suniva had a significant factory in Saginaw. The other four signatories are from Ohio, New Mexico and Texas.
Significantly absent from the list of signatories are any members of Congress from Georgia, where now-bankrupt Suniva was/is headquartered.
From the House, the signatories of their letter are Rep. Michael D. Bishop (MI-R), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-D), Rep. Daniel Kildee (MI-D), Rep. Steve Pearce (NM-R), Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-R), Rep. Kenny Marchant (TX-R), Rep. Earl Blumenaur (OR-D), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-D). On the Senate side, Sen. Ron Wyden (OR-D), Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR-D), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH-D) sent a letter.
“[T]o ensure electrical grid security, the United States cannot afford to become dependent on China and other countries for cutting edge [crystalline silicon photovoltaic] solar cell and module technology,” the Congresspeople wrote.
The odyssey of this Section 201 trade case began earlier this year, when Suniva filed for bankruptcy on April 18, filed trade complaints against its international competitors under Sections 201 and 202 of the Trade Act of 1974 with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) eight days later.
Suniva requested “global safeguard relief” from imports of crystalline silicon solar PV cells and modules. SolarWorld joined the petition about a month later.
At this point in the process, the final decision rests solely in the hands of the president. The USITC has recommended imposing some sort of relief, although their recommendations were much less stringent than those asked for by the petitioners. But Trump is not bound by the USITC suggestions and can impose any penalty he wants – or none at all, if he so chose.
Trump must make his final decision on the final form of trade action by January 26.
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So, its Ok to be dependant on China, Japan, and India for TV’s, computers, intergrated circuits and software? Just not solar panels?
I used to work at a solar PV factory in the U.S.; the supply chain in the U.S. for particularly pv cells, solar glass, and EVA is just not here. PV manufacturers in the U.S. depend on good quality components which come from around the world. If the trade case goes through, where are the U.S. pv manufacturers going to source the components they need for their businesses to survive? This 201 trade case well might kill U.S. solar production. Trump should instead incentivize new solar pv component businesses.
I think it is notable that any tariffs, quotas, etc. would apply to both cells and modules, and that under the quotas proposed by SolarWorld the bottleneck would be cells. So the issue would be sourcing wafers for new cell manufacturing, but you are correct that existing PV module makers who have shed their cell production (specifically Mission Solar in San Antonio) have a lot to lose under trade action.
However, it is also probable that cell factories would return to serve this market, and that for the limited supply chain that we have this would be the best thing that ever happened to them.
Overall, I think that the role and interactions with supply chains to U.S. cell and module manufacturing are something that have not been discussed in this trade case as much as I would have liked. The emphasis from SEIA and other organizations has been mostly downstream, on developers, installers/EPCs and the racking, mounting and tracker makers.
And as far as incentives and policy support being superior to punitive trade action, this is something that I strongly agree with. In fact in the November 2016 edition of pv magazine we explored this in detail in an article called Make Solar Great Again. Unfortunately I don’t see a coherent industrial policy in the United States being developed under Trump or any other administration, as neither party seems to have any real commitment to domestic manufacturing.
Allow me to offer something of a counterpoint to Christian’s opinion, especially what I believe is his rose-colored-glasses perspective that it is “probably that cell factories would return to serve this market.” I believe this assumes facts not in evidence.
It’s my belief that it would be far more lucrative to supply emerging markets that aren’t as hostile to solar as the United States is clearly becoming under a Trump Administration seemingly hellbent on returning us to a 19th century electricity-production system. Why would any company go through the hassle of trying to build a factory here – which would take years to build in any case, crunching supply in this country so tightly that it may never recover – when there are far more lucrative markets to supply elsewhere without the self-defeating barriers that the United States seems bullheadedly insistent on imposing?
Furthermore, and it’s a point often overlooked, the two bankrupt (or near bankrupt) companies that have brought the trade case will find their own supply restricted. Logic appears to dictate that they are cutting off their own supply to prove……some point or another. I don’t see much of a path forward for either of them with fewer suppliers of wafers on the market.
Lastly, if this were 2011, I might be tempted to support the trade action – but that ship sailed long ago. The module manufacturers are in China and elsewhere, and are neither coming back nor springing up even if the remedies requested by the two petitioners are granted. It’s a fool’s errand to save a dying manufacturing segment; energy should be focused on not repeating the errors of the past and jumping in wholeheartedly to support battery storage companies now, before that market is stolen as the module market was.
From what I hear the cost of starting a silicon wafer factory would be astronomical. Same with solar glass.
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