88,000 US Solar Jobs Threatened By Trade Case

Solar employment in the USA

Trade case’s huge implications for employment and solar investment | Image: SEIA

If a petition made by a declared bankrupt US solar company is successful, tens of thousands of jobs may be lost says the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Suniva, Inc. filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) in April this year requesting the US government level punitive tariffs on imported solar cells and set a minimum price for solar panels made with foreign cells.

Suniva is calling for a tariff of 40 cents per watt for solar cells produced overseas and a floor price of 78 cents per watt for solar panels.

Also in April, Suniva declared bankruptcy after laying off hundreds of employees and shuttering its manufacturing facility in Michigan.

In May, SolarWorld Americas became a co-petitioner. Parent company SolarWorld AG announced it would file for insolvency last month. SolarWorld’s involvement in this petition isn’t the first time it has participated in such actions. It was a key player in triggering what became known as the “solar trade war” between the USA and China.

Both Suniva and SolarWorld AG have pointed to cheap imports as a contributing factor in their downfall as they simply can’t compete.

While it’s always tragic when people are laid off in local manufacturing, the remedy being pursued could have far worse implications on the employment front. It could also have other knock-on effects such as occurred in the original solar trade war.

A Third Of US Solar Jobs Could Go

According to the SEIA, 88,000 of the 260,000 Americans currently employed by the nation’s solar power industry will lose their jobs if the ITC finds a case for action.

“These new estimates show the potential damage to the solar industry as a result of this petition,” said SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “Rather than help the industry, the action would kill many thousands of American jobs and put a stop to billions of dollars in private investment.”

Even in the states where Suniva and SolarWorld have operations, Ms. Ross Hopper says the damage done by such an action would far exceed the benefits of any propping up of local manufacturers it could provide.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is expected to make a decision in late September. If it finds in favour of the petitioners, it will make a recommendation to President Trump by Nov. 13, who will have 60 days to act.

However, it seems there is a way to see the case is dropped.

In May, Bloomberg reported the investment firm financing the complaint said the case would disappear if Chinese companies bought $55 million in manufacturing equipment it financed for Suniva. With the liquidation of the company’s assets, there would be no-one left to pursue the complaint and it would have to be withdrawn.

SEIA’s fact sheet on the trade case can be viewed here (PDF).

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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