Swinerton In the News

Swinerton Renewable Energy: March 26, 2014

W.H. Cool to Intervening in Solar Trade Complaint, Group Says

Solar companies opposed to tariffs on Chinese imports want the White House to pressure a solar manufacturer to drop its trade complaint and come to the negotiating table.

Solar companies opposed to tariffs on Chinese imports want the White House to pressure a solar manufacturer to drop its trade complaint and come to the negotiating table.

But the companies say the response has been lukewarm so far.

Members of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy were in Washington on Monday and Tuesday to meet with lawmakers and administration officials, including at the U.S. trade representative’s office and the White House.

CASE opposes potential tariffs on imports of Chinese solar products being sought by SolarWorld, a German manufacturer with a U.S. subsidiary based in Oregon.

In December, SolarWorld asked the Commerce Department essentially to close what it calls a loophole on tariffs imposed in 2012. It said most Chinese manufacturers are able to skirt the tariffs by making solar cells in Taiwan out of Chinese wafers, then sending the cells back to China for assembly into panels.

Under the trade complaint process, CASE can do little to stop Commerce’s consideration of the issue. CASE said its outreach efforts to SolarWorld have been met with a cold shoulder, and the company hasn’t shown any signs it is considering dropping the complaint. SolarWorld didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Barack Obama can’t intervene directly, but CASE hopes the White House will use its muscle to get SolarWorld to enter negotiations with the Chinese industry and other U.S. firms.

“What we really want is the administration to reach out to SolarWorld and find out what they want,” said George Hershman, a vice president at the San Diego-based company Swinerton Renewable Energy. “You would think the White House could do that, they could pick up the phone — and I guarantee you SolarWorld doesn’t pick up my phone call, but they’ll pick up their phone call.”

But getting the White House involved is proving to be an uphill battle, CASE says, although the group says it has gotten an understanding reception at the trade representative’s office.

White House officials have been interested in the issue but seem uncertain about what they could do, said a strategist working with CASE who didn’t want to be named because of his or her work with the White House. Factors at play include concerns about how the renewable energy trade fits into the United States’ complex relationship with China, as well as fears of potentially associating the administration with another Solyndra.

CASE is working to show the White House that domestic solar manufacturing does not necessarily mean making panels.

While some domestic panel manufacturers are successful, lots of other U.S. companies make the equipment used in solar installations, like racking systems and inverters.

Nearly half of U.S. solar workers, about 70,000 people, are in installation, making it by far the largest sector of workers, according to a recent industry census. Another 30,000 work in manufacturing.

Many installers say tariffs will only increase the price of solar energy — and because so many panels installed in the U.S. come from China, that would hurt the overall market.

Time is running short for CASE to act before any new tariffs go into effect.

The Commerce Department is expected to release preliminary tariff levels in June. While Commerce won’t set the final tariffs until later this year, the duties will apply retroactively to when the preliminary levels came out.

That means domestic installers that have to order panels months in advance so they can be manufactured and shipped across the Pacific are already running up against the clock.

“We’ll get enough modules in that we can start projects up until early June, when the tariffs are scheduled to hit, and build out through September, but after that we simply don’t have the modules to build,” said John Morrison, the chief operating officer of North Carolina-based Strata Solar.

By now, Hershman added, “if you haven’t written a check and purchased panels, you’re likely not getting them.”

CASE is also working to build bipartisan support on the Hill for a letter to pressure the administration to take action.

By Alex Guillen via Politico Pro