US solar firms seek fix for ‘illegal’ Chinese PV subsidies

October 20, 2011
Americans are getting serious about defending their solar industry

A new industry body claiming to represent US solar cell and panel manufacturers has filed complaints with the US Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission, about China's support for its solar industry. The petitions represent one of the largest China-related dumping and countervailing duty cases filed to date and the largest case filed in the renewable-energy industry.

The problem, according to the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), isn’t that material costs have been dropping and forcing PV prices downward by a worldwide average of 40 percent this year alone. It’s that China has massively subsidized PV manufacturing and “dumped” low-cost products onto overseas markets, the group says.

The move is hardly a surprise given the size of Chinese government-backed largese for domestic solar manufacturers. It is estimated that this year alone, Beijing will make USD29 billion in credit guarantees for its solar companies. Given the fact that Chinese wind turbine manufacters are focusing on the international market with stong state-sector backing, a general cleantech trade war may be getting underway.

SolarWorld, which is headquartered in Germany but the largest US producer of crystalline silicon solar cells and panels, is representing itself and six other US manufacturers – which aren’t being publicly named – in complaints about China’s PV subsidy policies.

Artificially low-priced solar products from China are crippling the domestic industry,” said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc, based in Hillsboro, Oregon.

China actually has no production cost advantage. Labor makes up a modest share of solar-industry costs, China’s labor is less productive, its raw material and equipment have come from the West and China must pay for long-distance shipping. Yet, massive state subsidies and sponsorship have enabled Chinese manufacturers to illegally dump their products into a wide-open US market.”

The news release from CASM notes that seven US solar companies have shut down or downsized over the past year-and-a-half. That list presumably includes Solyndra, which since declaring bankruptcy this year has become a lightning rod for critics of the Obama administration, as the company had received a USD535 million loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy.

CASM also poins out that imports of solar cells and panels from China have risen astronomically in recent years, with imports in July 2011 alone exceeding the total for 2010.