The US solar industry is plagued by a cluster of petitions to the Commerce Department seeking to impose new high tariffs on imported solar panels and solar cells. The authors of the petitions have chosen to remain anonymous and the guessing game is on. So who is behind these solar tariff petitions?
What’s wrong with solar panel pricing?
If you’re new to the topic of solar panel pricing, all you need to know is one thing – the number of true solar nut soup manufacturers in the United States is extremely low. Almost all of the domestic manufacturing in the United States is done with imported panels and cells, among others. This means that tariffs can make or break key players and put a damper on the entire domestic industry.
It is not that simple, because other elements can come into play. The Trump administration put the brakes on the industry when it imposed new solar tariffs in January 2018, but technological improvements, new solar financing instruments and the use of solar panels not covered by tariffs have helped to keep the industry going.
Another complicating factor is the security of the supply chain. As with the Obama administration, the Biden administration is trying to increase domestic supplies of key parts and materials. That will take time. As it stands, the United States is going to have to continue to rely on imports to speed up the solar installation in line with the president’s ambitious climate action plan.
So who is really behind the new solar panel tariffs?
In this image, a group of anonymous companies called on the Ministry of Commerce to impose new tariffs of 50-250% on imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels and cells from Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, according to an angry letter launched by the Solar Industries Association of America earlier this week. The letter was signed by approximately 190 American solar players.
In the letter, SEIA asked who was behind the petitions. If you know how to research petitions at the Department of Commerce, go ahead. We searched under âcrystalline silicon photovoltaicsâ and found four recent and not-so-anonymous rescue requests.
The first took place in 2017 under the Trump administration and was filed on behalf of Suniva. The next one appeared in 2019, on behalf of the âUnited States Trade Representativeâ.
Then there was radio silence until last month, when two petitions arose. One was filed on behalf of Suniva and Auxin Solar, and the other was filed on behalf of Hanwha Q Cells USA, LG Electronics USA and Mission Solar Energy.
If you have an a-ha moment, you might have to guess again. Auxin, Suniva, Hanwha, and LG were not among the 190 solar companies that signed the SEIA letter, but Mission Solar is on the list.
So either Mission is playing both sides against the middle, or it has one hand that doesn’t know what the other is doing, or there are two different companies called Mission Solar. Or something else is going on.
Either way, none of the August petitions are the ones SEIA is aiming its anger at. According to news reports last month, several petitions filed in August have yet to be released by the Commerce Department.
Who Really Supports Solar Panel Tariffs?
One could look for a clue among solar companies that have publicly backed the Trump administration on solar panel tariffs. One of them was Suniva, who later filed for bankruptcy. In 2019, our friends from Quartz reported that Suniva later reorganized successfully through New York-based Lion Point Capital.
Quartz also noted that the wholly owned subsidiary of German company SolarWorld Industries, SolarWorld Americas, had backed Trump tariffs before it also filed for bankruptcy. Its assets were purchased by SunPower in 2018.
SolarWorld Americas resurfaced in 2020, when DC law firm Wiley represented it in a tariff case against Chinese company Sunpreme in California (more details in a second).
What are US solar manufacturers against Chinese bypass?
As for the identity of the anonymous petitions, the answer still lies somewhere down the halls of Wiley, who also represents these depositors. In a press release dated August 16, Wiley cites the American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention organization as the entity behind the anonymous petitions.
By way of circumvention, they allege that Chinese companies have relocated much of their solar business to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, while continuing to maintain a firm grip on subsidized manufacturing and R&D in their country. Wiley’s press release cites many names, including subsidiaries of Jinko Solar in Malaysia, Canadian Solar Manufacturing in Thailand, and Trina Solar in Vietnam.
Wiley’s August press release was circulated widely, but no one seems to have found a website or other background information about an organization called American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention, other than the fact that there are reportedly several solar companies in the group.
This thing about anonymity raises another case of interest involving Wiley and privacy. Last March, the firm issued a press release describing two amicus briefs he has testified in support of organizations challenging a California law that requires all charities operating in the state to disclose their major donors to the California attorney general.
One was filed in favor of the Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. The other was filed jointly with the American Legislative Exchange Council.
If ALEC rings a bell, it should. Among other issues, the organization has been linked to the obstruction of climate action, prompting climate activists and other stakeholders to try to shed light on its donors.
by Wily brief friend with ALEC goes beyond First Amendment questions to describe why anonymity is so important to charities like ALEC.
“… ALEC’s brief highlights an organized campaign to defame, harass and boycott members of the ALEC as well as members of other organizations over several decades using mandatory disclosure as a tool,” says Wiley in his Press release.
“The brief details how officials allied with private activists attempted to obtain lists of” CAFTA members and private contributors “in an attempt to use this information” to ruin CAFTA and eliminate its ideas from the CAFTA. public place, âWiley adds.
Say it! Let’s go back to those anonymous bypass petitions that Wiley filed in August. PV magazines the report included an interview with Wiley’s partner Timothy Brightbill, who explained the reasoning behind the anonymity:
“[Brightbill] declined to name the members of the anti-dumping organization, saying “given China’s control over the entire solar supply chain, retaliation is likely if their identities come to light.” In such situations, the companies that make up the coalition “are permitted under US law to remain confidential,” he said.
It seems to sort it out. Wiley and Brightbill also represented SolarWorld Americas in this 2020 lawsuit, so it looks like anonymity cuts a fine line in questions like these.
The Commerce Department has until September 30 to respond to anonymous petitions, so stay tuned for more.
Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Solar panels via the US Department of Energy.
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