Suniva, Seeking Tariffs on Foreign Solar Panels, Faces Tough Questions from ITC

Inside Climate News

8/16/17

At a federal hearing Tuesday to decide whether domestic makers of solar panels need tariff protection from imports, members of the U.S. International Trade Commission focused much of their questioning on why these companies had failed as the overall solar market was booming.

Was the reason, as solar panel manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld complained, that they were overwhelmed by a tide of inexpensive imports—and that this could be remedied by a period of stiff tariffs and sharply increased prices?

Or was it, as the petition's critics asserted, that the domestic producers had crippled themselves through a series of strategic errors and bad decisions—and that rewarding them with protection would only damage the rest of the industry?

The hearing was so crowded that the audience spilled into two overflow rooms, including many solar installers in bright yellow and orange T-shirts that stood out among the business attire of the lobbyists, lawyers and entrepreneurs who typically attend this kind of technical proceeding.

Even as solar factory workers have lost their jobs, the industry's rooftop workforce has boomed in recent years, along with those who build and maintain solar installations for utilities, big commercial customers and the like.

That big workforce thrives on cheap supplies, and it has drawn the attention of politicians, who were also there to weigh in. In what the commission chair said was unusual for an ITC hearing, a number of state officials and lawmakers testified against the imposition of tariffs. A Republican from North Carolina, a Democrat from Maryland and a bipartisan team of legislators from Minnesota argued that their state's thriving solar industries would be harmed by a trade move that increased the costs of panels. The lone local official testifying in favor of solar tariffs was the Mayor of Norcross, Georgia, Bucky Johnson, who urged the commission to help his city's one-time success story, Suniva.

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