Monday's General Session at Solar Power International 2017 took on the issue that's on everyone's mind—”The Other ITC.” This, of course, refers to the trade case that SolarWorld and Suniva brought before the International trade Commission (ITC) seeking to apply tariffs to imported solar cells. The two companies contend that a rising level of imports caused them serious injury and left them unable to compete in the US market. The Solar Energy Industries Association submitted a brief that showed a long history of management and technical failures by the petitioners, summarizing that the petitioners brought their business collapse upon themselves. For more background on the case, read “Time for Action: SolarWorld joins Suniva in solar safeguards case.”
Next deadline: September 22
On August 15 the ITC held a hearing on injury, which was attended by hundreds of solar workers. Hopper said they had a great showing and that it set a record for the longest ITC hearing. The next step is the ITC's decision, which is due on September 22. After that, if the ITC has not dismissed the case, there will be a remedy hearing on October 3 when they will decide what remedy is appropriate, and will vote on a remedy on October 31. By November 13 a recommendation would be sent to the President and he would have to make a decision by January 12.
Monday morning's discussion, led by Abigail Ross Hopper, President and Chief Executive Officer, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Ed Fenster, Executive Chairman, Sunrun, George Hershman, Senior Vice President, General Manager, Swinerton Renewable Energy and Bill Vietas President, RBI Solar. They discussed what's at stake, which is an estimated 88,000 jobs in the solar industry (plus all of those up and downstream), the downfall of the utility scale market, the momentum that's been growing, the climate...and so much more.
The reality of the trade case is that it makes little sense to those in the industry. Both Hershman and Fenster said that their companies had dealt with SolarWorld, which had trouble either scaling to operate in the utility scale market or they delivered inferior products, often behind schedule. Fenster said that SunRun tried to carry SolarWorld's products, however, “they missed deadlines, had dishonored warranty claims and even had products that were supposed to be made in the USA were labeled Made in China.” Hershman said that when putting in about 75MW in Oregon last year, Swinerton decided to use SolarWorld modules because they were local content—made in Oregon. He said every one of those solarWorld modules came from Thailand, noting that “This was a very small market opportunity that we gave them and they couldn't support it.” Vietas added that “These two companies are holding the industry hostage.”
Should the trade case move forward and a tariff imposed on imports of crystalline silicon modules, prices of solar would spike. I spoke with Standard Solar's Tony Clifford following the General Session who said the worst case scenario is that we'd see a jump in module prices from the 36 to 38 cent range up to around 78 cents. He added that they're already hard to come by but the supply would be cut significantly and small companies going through distributors would suffer the most.
What can be done?
Hershman described how SunRun got all of its employees involved by letting them know that their jobs were at risk, encouraging them to write letters, collecting signatures, and more. Vietas said it's on us to tell employees, vendors, suppliers. “Tell everyone what impact it will have on your business and also the impact on climate and the world around us.” Fenster stressed the importance of supporting SEIA. “The facts are on our side but it's costly and SEIA needs your support. You don't have to love SEIA, but you have to love this.”
This is a 23 billion dollar industry and a lot is at risk, but this case can be won by persuasion, Hopper said. Let your voice be heard. Get involved. Come to Washington for lobby days. Sponsor the campaign. Spread the word!
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today