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October 28, 2011
Volume 89, Number 44

Solar Panel Makers Cry Foul

Trade: U.S. companies complain of market dumping by China

Jeff Johnson

The U.S. market for SolarWorld’s crystalline solar panels, seen here, is being swept away by an illegal flood of Chinese imports, the company says. SolarWorld
The U.S. market for SolarWorld’s crystalline solar panels, seen here, is being swept away by an illegal flood of Chinese imports, the company says.
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In a 3,000-page petition to the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the U.S. International Trade Commission, seven solar panel makers charge they’ve been injured by Chinese companies “dumping” crystalline solar panels in the U.S. at prices below production costs or below the panels’ price in China.

Of the seven, only one is identified: SolarWorld Industries America Inc., with facilities in Oregon and California. The others remain anonymous, which is allowed under DOC policies.

“The Chinese industry is using dumped and subsidized pricing to drive U.S. companies out of the U.S. market,” says Timothy C. Brightbill, an attorney for the seven companies. The U.S. solar business is “one of few growth markets in this down economy,” he adds, saying the Chinese are trying to “exploit it at any and all costs.”

Along with dumping, the petition says China has illegally subsidized its solar industry through cash grants and other financial support. Chinese government aid, the petition notes, has resulted in a flood of Chinese exports of inexpensive panels on the U.S. market.

According to the petition, U.S. imports of Chinese solar cells and panels rose more than 300% from 2008 to 2010; in a single month, July 2011, Chinese exports to the U.S. exceeded those in all of 2010. This surge, the petition continues, is the primary cause of a 40% decline in world market prices for solar panels over the past year.

This decline caused the bankruptcy of seven U.S. companies in the past 18 months, the petition says, echoing concerns by many in Congress who also fear Chinese companies are taking over the U.S. solar marketplace.

However, declining panel prices are also a driver for the global expansion of renewable, noncarbon energy as well as expansion of the solar industry, particularly crystalline solar panel installations, which make up nearly 90% of the solar-energy-generation business. The remedy for dumping would be a duty on imported Chinese panels, says a DOC official, raising their price to that of U.S.-made panels. But the impact, observers say, could possibly be to curb U.S. solar expansion.

Several recent economic studies chart a dramatic growth in the U.S. solar industry. A study by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) finds that last year the U.S. solar industry grew by more than 100% and that, in fact, U.S. solar exports to China exceeded Chinese exports to the U.S. by $240 million when all solar-related products, raw material, and capital equipment are included. SolarWorld and its congressional allies dispute the study.

Complicating the infighting is the global nature of this small, growing, competitive, and heavily subsidized industry. SolarWorld is a German company with plants in seven countries. SEIA has 1,100 members, 20 of which are Chinese-based companies, and about half of its member companies are installers whose businesses profit from low panel prices. And SEIA’s board of directors is led by Roger Efird, managing director for U.S. operations of Suntech, a Chinese company and the world’s largest solar panel maker. SEIA took no position on the petition.

A full investigation may take 14 months, according to DOC.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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