An anonymous solar coalition’s call to the Biden administration for further trade restrictions on panels linked to China becomes a tug-of-war that analysts say will have major implications for the entire U.S. solar industry .
The coalition, known as the American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention (A-SMACC), asked the Commerce Department in August for new tariffs on solar products originating in China and assembled in Malaysia, Vietnam or Thailand. The coalition accused nearly two dozen Chinese companies – including some of the world’s largest solar energy providers – of installing facilities in the three Southeast Asian countries in order to export to the states. -United without paying the existing tariffs (Energy wire, August 18)
But the petition was cryptic: Lawyers for the group did not publicly disclose who the coalition members were, saying the Chinese government would retaliate against them if they did.
The move angered the largest trading groups in the renewable energy sector, including the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which dismissed the group’s arguments as “baseless”. The Edison Electric Institute, a dozen Democratic congressmen, Asian diplomats and others also urged the Commerce Department to reject the request.
But some analysts predict that the Biden administration will eventually side with the anonymous solar coalition. Yesterday, in a research note, analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC said Commerce’s track record showed “a tendency to meet demand” for new solar tariffs.
The Biden administration has yet to take a position. On September 29, the Commerce Department delayed its decision whether or not to initiate a formal investigation into the petition, instead asking A-SMACC to explain in more detail why members feared retaliation.
A decision in favor of the group could affect a wide range of products in the US solar industry. A letter to Commerce from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) Said nearly 60% of all solar panels used in the United States so far this year have been imported from Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, although he did not cite a source.
ClearView analysts also noted that more than 70 percent of all solar imports last year came from the three Southeast Asian countries.
The petition has emerged as other solar trade disputes with China – such as accusations of forced labor at solar power manufacturing facilities – continue to bubble, he added. ClearView warned of “a high and growing business risk to the global solar supply chain.”
2 groups in the crossfire
A-SMACC’s responses to Commerce’s questions, including the group’s justification for remaining anonymous, were made public on Wednesday, albeit in a heavily redacted form.
The group provided a long list of diplomatic incidents rooted in China’s trade relations, and noted that in 2012, shortly after the United States adopted tariffs on Chinese imports of solar energy. , Chinese hackers attacked SolarWorld, leading to the indictment of five people by the Department of Justice.
The coalition also launched an offensive against SEIA, the solar industry’s largest trading group, which led the offensive against the petition.
SEIA’s board and membership, he noted, include several large Chinese suppliers who have previously been accused by A-SMACC of circumventing existing tariffs on Chinese products.
SEIA has “a long and well-documented history of lobbying Chinese solar power manufacturers,” she argued, and “directly represents the interests” of several major Chinese suppliers who were named in the original petition.
âThe SEIA is functioning effectively as a Washington, DC-based executor for Chinese solar interests,â A-SMACC lawyers wrote.
“Given the Chinese government’s economic coercion strategy, its ability to harness the collective action of its industries and companies (including nominally private companies) to pursue strategic goals, and the influence of Chinese solar companies within SEIA, there is no doubt that retaliation would occur if the efforts to identify A-SMACC members were successful, “they added.
Tim Brightbill, lawyer for A-SMACC and partner of Wiley Rein LLP, said the Commerce Department should “move forward immediately” with an investigation into unfair trading practices by Chinese solar companies.
Abigail Ross Hopper, Managing Director of SEIA, retorted that A-SMACC had “failed to provide answers showing how Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia could be engaged in the bypass” and said her group “was opening the way to an American solar manufacturing future “. . ”
“We plan to file a formal response in the next few days, but the Commerce Department shouldn’t wait, it should dismiss this case now,” she said.
The Chinese government’s legal adviser did not respond to E&E News inquiries at the time of publication.
The business case unfolds as SEIA expands its vision of the future role of solar power in US grids. At the end of September, the group said it was aiming for solar power to represent 30% of the country’s electricity mix by 2030, up from its previous target of 20% and well above its 3 % current. He also called on Congress for a series of new supportive policies designed to encourage domestic manufacturers of solar products.
The Commerce Department’s decision on whether to conduct a full investigation into the case is expected to arrive by the end of November.