Solar group names its members to Commerce, asks for public confidentiality

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A U.S. solar group seeking import tariffs on panels made by Chinese companies in Southeast Asia confidentially identified to federal trade officials its members’ identities. It continued, however, to request public confidentiality, citing fears of retaliation by Beijing.

The filing was made by the group American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention (A-SMACC). The group in August asked Commerce to investigate whether imports from Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam were unfair, arguing that Chinese companies had shifted production to those nations in recent years to avoid existing U.S. duties on solar cells and panels made in China.

In late September, the Commerce Department deferred a decision on the request and asked the group to identify its members.

In its response to the department’s request, the group revealed its members to Commerce officials, said Timothy Brightbill, attorney for the group with the law firm Wiley Rein. In a publicly available version of the response, which has been reviewed by pv magazine, the members’ names have been removed. A-SMACC argued again that identifying its members could expose them to retribution from the Chinese industry, and could cut off supplies of module components like polysilicon.

In a copy of the 28-page filing obtained by pv magazine, the group said the case “implicates China’s strategic economic interests and is likely to generate a response that targets A-SMACC’s members if their identities are made public.” The filing said that overseas investments that are the subject of the tariff request are “the outcome of industrial and strategic economic priorities at the highest levels of the Chinese government.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has argued that the petitions should be dismissed on their merits. More broadly, the industry trade group said that the tariffs would cripple the U.S. solar industry.

In a statement to pv magazine, SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said, “From what we can tell of the heavily redacted document, the petitioners have failed to provide answers that show how Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia might be engaged in circumvention.”  She said that SEIA plans to file a formal response in the coming days, “but Commerce shouldn’t wait, it should dismiss this case now.”

The A-SMACC filing charged that SEIA “is effectively functioning as a Washington, DC-based enforcer for Chinese solar interests, making it unnecessary for Chinese entities to directly determine the identities of the members of A-SMACC.”

In a September 27 news conference, SEIA said that that almost 80% of all solar modules are imported from the countries, which include Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

George Hershman, president and general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy told reporters that 90-95% of the modules that his company plans to import could be impacted. And he said that “100%” of the 7.5 GW of projects his company has in the pipeline for this year and next would be at risk.

“This is absolutely the biggest risk and issue for our company and the industry,” Hershman said during the SEIA-hosted press conference.

Updated October 14 to include a statement from Abigail Ross Hopper and to clarify that A-SMACC said it identified its member companies to Commerce Department officials.

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