The future of the US solar power industry has been placed in the hands of President Donald Trump, after the country’s International Trade Commission ruled that domestic panel manufacturers had suffered “serious injury” from foreign competitors.
The next step for the ITC will be to recommend in 60 days what action should be taken to address the injury it has found, but the ultimate decision on whether to impose tariffs or other remedies lies with the president.
The ITC had been reviewing the US market for solar cells and panels after a complaint from Suniva, a Georgia-based manufacturer that went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April.
It has been seeking steep tariffs and minimum selling prices for panels imported to the US from any other country, to protect domestic manufacturing, under a rarely-used provision of the 1974 Trade Act, Section 201.
The US solar industry has been heavily dependent on cheap imported panels for its growth, and the Solar Energy Industries Association has warned that the duties sought by Suniva would cost 88,000 jobs in marketing, design, installation and management of solar systems.
Suniva issued a statement welcoming the decision, saying it was “gratified that the ITC has found that a surge of imports into the US has decimated the American” solar cell and panel manufacturing industry. It added:
We brought this action because the US solar manufacturing industry finds itself at the precipice of extinction at the hands of foreign market overcapacity. The ITC has agreed, and now it will be in President Trump’s hands to decide whether America will continue to have the capability to manufacture this energy source. 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.
Gregory Wetstone of the American Council on Renewable Energy said the decision “raises serious concern about the potential for tariffs that could increase electricity prices and threaten a thriving solar industry”.
Tariffs at anywhere near the rates sought by Suniva would threaten the cost-competitiveness of solar power in the United States, and lead to higher electric power prices and slower growth in the nation’s economy.
In the coming weeks and months ACORE and its allies will seek to work with White House officials urging that the President, who ultimately has discretion to craft the response to today’s decision, focus on strategies that boost domestic manufacturing without interfering with the fundamental economics and cost competitiveness of solar power.