SEIA fires back on tariffs, calls A-SMACC’s case ‘baseless’


Calling a publicly unidentified group of companies’ petition for tariffs on solar imports from Southeast Asia “baseless,” the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) sought to refute the credibility of the case in a 138-page response to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The document attacked what SEIA said were a series of “false narratives,” including a “flagrantly false claim that SEIA rejects the need for domestic manufacturing” and other allegations about SEIA’s interests.

In a statement, SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said that the trade group “is the voice of America’s solar industry and represents the interests of American solar workers and companies.” She said the group is leading the fight against the tariff request to protect this country’s 10,000 solar companies and 231,000 solar workers from the “monied interests” behind the petition.

Abigail Ross Hopper

Image: SEIA

In mid October, lawyers for the publicly anonymous group identified to federal trade officials the identities of members involved in American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention (A-SMACC). Lawyers for the group asked Commerce Department officials to keep the names confidential from the public because of fears of retaliation.

“SEIA’s statement simply shows that they are willing to enable the unfair and destructive trade practices of state-backed Chinese companies,” said Timothy Brightbill in an email to pv magazine. Brightbill is with the Washington, D.C. law firm Wiley Rein that represents A-ASMACC. “U.S. solar manufacturing is on the rise – and that is the best future for our country and for the world.”

‘Unfair’ competition

A-SMACC in August asked Commerce officials 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 and asked the group to identify its members.

In its response, the group revealed its members to Commerce officials, said Brightbill. In a publicly available version of the response, which was obtained by pv magazine, the members’ names had been removed. A-SMACC argued that identifying its members could expose them to retaliation from the Chinese solar industry, and could cut off supplies of module components like polysilicon.

Timothy Brightbill

In its 28-page filing, the group said the case “implicates China’s strategic economic interests” and was likely to generate a response that “targets A-SMACC’s members if their identities are made public.” It 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 A-SMACC filing also charged that SEIA “is effectively functioning as a Washington, D.C.-based enforcer for Chinese solar interests, making it unnecessary for Chinese entities to directly determine the identities of the members of A-SMACC.”

‘Recklessly’ asking

In SEIA’s rebuttal statement released October 25, Ross Hopper said that “without the integrity to identify who they are and who they represent, a shadow group of anonymous petitioners are recklessly asking our government to misinterpret U.S. law, upend the lives of thousands of American families and undermine any hope we have to mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change.”

In a late September news conference, SEIA said that that almost 80% of all solar modules are imported from the countries that are the subject of the petition, including Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

George Hershman, president and general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy told reporters at the time that 90-95% of the modules 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 through 2022 would be at risk.

“This is absolutely the biggest risk and issue for our company and the industry,” Hershman said during the press conference. He also serves as Executive Committee chair for SEIA.

Ross Hopper’s October 25 statement said that the trade group earlier had forecasted that Trump-era action known as Section 201 tariffs would cause “significant loss” of deployment, jobs, and investment.

“We now know that at least 10 GW of solar installations, 62,000 American solar jobs and $19 billion in investment has been lost as a result,” she said.

Her statement went on to say that SEIA can “confidently project” that if circumvention tariffs are imposed, the U.S. will “miss out on another 46,000 solar jobs by 2023, including 15,000 lost manufacturing jobs.”

In his email to pv magazine, Brightbill said that “SEIA’s claims about jobs lost are as ridiculous today as they were 10 years ago.” He said that solar is booming and that “the best way to ensure long-term growth is to strengthen the entire industry – and that means manufacturing, R&D, and investment in America, not just in China.”

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