The Messy Politics Surrounding the Solar Trade Case

Greentech Media

8/15/17

As the U.S. International Trade Commission holds its first public hearing on the Suniva and SolarWorld trade case today, many solar stakeholders are already thinking ahead to the fall -- and about President Trump.

To be sure, the ITC holds a lot of sway in this case. The commission is expected to complete its investigation of the Section 201 trade petition by September 22, and if the trade body determines foreign imports have caused no injury to the domestic solar industry, the case will be thrown out. However, there's a good chance the final determination rests out of the ITC’s hands.

The ITC’s prehearing report states that numerous U.S. producers of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSPV) products reported adverse impacts on their operations due to import competition. In one query, nine U.S. producers ranked imports as an extremely important cause of injury, and one firm ranked it as an important factor.

During testimony today, Matthew McConkey, partner at law firm Mayer Brown representing Suniva, insisted this case isn’t only about the two petitioners. “The United States is literally strewn with the carcasses of shuttered solar manufacturing facilities,” he said.

If the ITC does find injury, the case will very quickly become political. The commission will hold a hearing to discuss a trade remedy on October 3. That recommendation will then go to President Trump, who has the authority to accept, reject, soften or toughen the ITC’s proposed sanctions.

It’s the Trump card that has some solar industry insiders concerned. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is making the case that foreign-owned solar product manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld brought their recent financial collapses upon themselves, even as the broader U.S. solar industry continues to thrive. SEIA calculated that 88,000 U.S. jobs would be lost if the requested tariffs are approved.

The trade group has garnered support from a bipartisan group of 16 senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives, who sent open letters to PTC Chairman Rhonda Schmidtlein urging the commission to reject the petition. “Increasing costs will stop solar growth dead in its tracks, threatening tens of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and jeopardizing billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country,” the Senate letter states. Several conservative free-market groups have also joined with SEIA to fight against protectionist trade measures.

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