Trade panel: Cheap imports hurt US solar industry

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. trade panel has ruled that low-cost solar panels imported from China and other countries have caused serious injury to American manufacturers, raising the possibility of the Trump administration imposing tariffs that could double the price of solar panels from aboard.

Friday’s vote by the International Trade Commission was unanimous. The trade commission has until mid-November to recommend a remedy to President Donald Trump, with a final decision on tariffs expected in January.

Georgia-based Suniva Inc., and Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas brought the case, saying a flood of imports have pushed them to the brink of extinction. Suniva declared bankruptcy, while SolarWorld had to lay off three-quarters of its workforce.

Cheap imports have led to a boom in the U.S. solar industry, where rooftop and other installations have surged tenfold since 2011.

The main trade group for the solar industry and many governors oppose tariffs, saying they could cause a sharp price hike that would lead to a drop in solar installations by more than 50 percent in two years.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, called the trade commission’s 4-0 vote disappointing for nearly 9,000 U.S. solar companies and the 260,000 Americans they employ.

“Foreign-owned companies that brought business failures on themselves are attempting to exploit American trade laws to gain a bailout for their bad investments,” Hopper said, warning that potential tariffs could double the price of solar, lowering U.S. demand and eroding billions of dollars in investment.

Suniva’s U.S. operations are based in Georgia, but the company’s majority owner is in China. SolarWorld Americas is a subsidiary of German solar giant SolarWorld, which declared insolvency last month.

Suniva hailed the ruling.

“It will be in President Trump’s hands to decide whether America will continue to have the capability to manufacture this energy source,” the company said in a statement. “President Trump can remedy this injury with relief that ensures U.S. energy dominance that includes a healthy U.S. solar ecosystem and prevents China and its proxies from owning the sun.”

Trump has not cozied up to the solar industry, as he has for coal and other fossil fuels, but he is considered sympathetic to imposing tariffs on solar imports as part of his “America first” philosophy.

Governors of four solar-friendly states — Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina — oppose the tariff, warning it could jeopardize the industry. They cited a study showing that a global tariff could cause solar installations to drop by more than 50 percent in two years, a crushing blow as states push for renewable energy that does not contribute to climate change.

“The requested tariff could inflict a devastating blow on our states’ solar industries and lead to unprecedented job loss, at steep cost to our states’ economies,” the two Republicans and two Democrats wrote in a letter Thursday to the trade commission.