Thursday, July 7 2022

Lawmakers are battling over a Commerce Department investigation into solar panel imports that could result in hefty tariffs on Chinese imports critical to the solar panel industry.

The issue is non-partisan: Democrats and Republicans stand on both sides of the issue, with one bipartisan group arguing that the investigation itself and any tariffs that may eventually come would devastate the solar sector.

In an interview with The Hill, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) said the investigation and the tariffs themselves are “causing massive disruption” to the solar industry, especially in Nevada, which has the most solar jobs per capita. State.

“We are only able to meet about 15% of the national demand for solar panels. So we don’t have the capacity here right now to fill all the orders and even complete the projects that have already been bid on,” Rosen said.

Other Republicans and Democrats say Commerce was right to launch the investigation to protect American jobs and prevent Chinese companies from circumventing existing laws meant to prevent the dumping of cheap goods.

“A strong commitment to American manufacturing must be coupled with appropriate business enforcement so that investments in American production, workers, and innovation are not undermined by unfair business practices,” the senses wrote. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) in a letter to Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo in March asking that the petition for the investigation be accepted.

Brown and Portman framed the investigation in terms of American jobs at stake, writing “if legitimate allegations of circumvention are not addressed, entire national industries and thousands of American manufacturing jobs are at risk.”

Commerce accepted the petition from Auxin Solar, a solar company based in San Jose, Calif., in March. It is investigating whether several solar panel parts companies in Southeast Asia are using these companies as fronts to circumvent US tariffs in place on Chinese companies.

The department previously denied a similar petition from the trade group American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention.

Rosen was joined by a group that includes Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Ks.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Brian Schatz (D-Hi.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D- RI), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to oppose the investigation.

There have been no findings yet, but the Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA), a trade group that represents solar energy companies throughout the supply chain, warned that the mere existence of the investigation could have profound negative consequences for the industry. In April, the group reduced its projections for solar installations in the United States by 46%.

“Although our hope and expectation is that there will be a negative determination [and] there will be no tariffs imposed on the panels…this action by the federal government is evidence of real political uncertainty in the United States,” SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper told The Hill .

Auxin, founded in 2008, says it produces about 150 megawatts of solar panels a year, a tiny amount compared to Chinese companies whose exports provide most of America’s solar power. These companies have a capacity of 5 to 50 gigawatts.

Critics of the SEIA trade group say it includes among its members several Chinese companies that are already subject to tariffs for violating US laws. These companies are now being accused by Auxin of circumventing these tariffs by producing panels in other Southeast Asian countries.

“If you look closely at SEIA and [the American Clean Power Association,] they have Chinese companies among their members and they are funded by them,” said Nick Iacovella of the bipartisan trade reform organization, the Coalition for a Prosperous America.

These members include US subsidiaries of Chinese companies JinkoSolar, JA Solar and Trina Solar, as well as Hanwha Q Cells, which is headquartered in Korea but has manufacturing in China.

“SEIA is working day and night to discredit and undermine this investigation as the Commerce Department reviews their businesses, their members,” Iacocovella said. “I don’t know how clearer it gets. Everyone should question their motives here.

Lawmakers from both parties have also accused the companies in question of profiting from the forced labor of ethnic Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang, China. The senses. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Merkeley (D-Ore.) noted in a March 2021 letter that Jinko and JA have “publicly indicated that they source polysilicon,” a major component in the manufacture of solar panels, Xinjiang. Iacovella is a former Rubio staffer.

Dan Whitten, SEIA’s vice president of public affairs, disputed the characterization in an email to The Hill.

“Allegations of Chinese influence on SEIA are absurd and patently false. Of the 60 companies on SEIA’s board, all have operations in the United States and one company is headquartered in China. Like any member of the Board of Directors, they have one vote.

“SEIA represents America’s solar and storage industries and American workers, period. Those who suggest otherwise are fundamentally dishonest and acting in bad faith,” he said.

Auxin said arguments that the industry would be jeopardized if tariffs were imposed on the imports in question are overstated.

“SEIA has always asserted that tariffs would compromise solar deployment. It never happened,” Auxin CEO Mamun Rashid said in a statement to The Hill. “Solar deployment and domestic solar manufacturing have reached historic highs with legal rights in place.”

Rosen co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) to repeal Section 201 tariffs affecting imports of solar panel components.

The Trump-era tariffs apply to imported solar cells and modules, and have long been strongly opposed by SEIA but backed by domestic solar panel makers like Auxin. In February, Biden extended the tariffs for another four years, but relaxed their terms to exempt bifacial panels, a type of panel typically used by large-scale developers. SEIA said at the time that it was “disappointed” with the extension, but supported the exemption as a “balanced solution”.

Rosen described the survey as potentially risky for a broader program of rapid deployment of renewable energy in the United States.

“We need a green energy future. We want a sustainable and cleaner way to produce energy. Solar is one of those ways, and we can do that in every state in the country, but we have to have the right kinds of policies that allow us to continue to build what’s already on the books and then incentivize American manufacturing to do what we need to do to continue to meet our clean and less energy goals and reduce energy costs,” she said.

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