By - Jim Vess

Foreign solar panel makers and American installers seek to be excluded from Trump solar tariff

Energize Weekly, March 28, 2018

More than 80 foreign solar cell and module manufactures and American companies using imported solar products are seeking exclusions from the Trump administration solar import tariff, according to filings with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The arguments made by the applicants, based on a review of the filings, generally fall within three categories: the particular product is not manufactured in the United States, its import will have little impact on the market, or that the price for a particular product is above the going market rate.

Some filings argued that the loss of particular products would have an adverse impact on the U.S. economy and jobs. There was a total of 56 filings.

On Jan. 22, President Donald Trump approved a 30 percent tariff on solar imports than would step down 5 percent a year to 15 percent in 2021. The first 2.5 gigawatts of imports were exempt from the tariff each year. Solar product makers and users are scrambling to get out from under the tariff.

Meanwhile, Washington has rejected European Union proposals for an alternative to the tariffs, according to a filing this month by the U.S. and EU at the World Trade Organization. That could set the stage for retaliatory measures by the EU.

The tariff is the result of a complaint filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission by two, small American manufacturers—Suniva Inc., of Norcross Ga., and Hillsboro, Ore.-based SolarWord.

Among those seeking an exclusion is SolarWorld GmbH, the German parent company of SolarWord. “SolarWorld is committed to offering high-quality modules and therefore is a passionate advocate for re-establishing global fair and free trade while fighting dumping in the U.S. by China,” the German company said.

SolarWorld said it is seeking an exemption for its “high-quality crystalline silicon photovoltaic (CSVP) products which are not only manufactured under the higher standards of the European market and its economic conditions but also comply with German and European regulation and highest quality and sustainability standards.”

The price point for this product, SolarWorld said, is above those from Asia or even the U.S. and therefore, “doesn’t interfere with the well-understood interest of U.S. manufacturers in growing and prospering the U.S. market.”

EU ProSun, which represents 30 European manufacturers that account for 80 percent of EU cell and module production, also said that it supported American efforts to deal with cheap imports from China and subsidiary Asian manufactures.

“Chinese manufactures have blatantly shared their intent to drive the market toward lower standards by further reducing prices despite new tariffs, by assuming and absorbing them,” EU ProSun said in it is application.

“Our main concern is that with a general import tariff without exclusion for fairly traded high quality and sustainability European solar products Chinese companies absorbing the tariffs will only benefit more and eradiate competition in the U.S. market,” EU ProSun said.

The Utility-Scale Solar Coalition—representing solar developers including Cypress Creek Renewables, EDF Renewable Energy, E.ON North America, NRG Renewables, sPower, Southern Current, Swinerton Renewable Energy and Tradewind Energy—is seeking an exemption for the large modules used in utility arrays.

The exclusion would be for 72-cell or greater, 1,500 Volt DC (direct current) CSPV modules, which are used only in utility-scale projects.

“CSPV solar modules for utility-scale projects in the United States are not sufficiently available from domestic sources,” the filing said. “Utility-scale electricity providers have no viable domestic source of modules to meet their demand.”

“If granted, this narrowly-tailored exclusion would not only ensure the continued health of the utility segment and the preservation of thousands of American employees and hundreds of American manufacturers, including steel manufacturers, it will also improve the long-term competitiveness of domestic CSPV manufacturers,” the coalition’s filing said.

Hanwha Q CELLS Korea Corporation is seeking an exclusion for its half-cell 6-busbar wire 144-cell aluminum frame modules, contending that CSPV modules for utility-scale projects “are not sufficiently available” in the U.S.

In the residential and commercial market, Canadian Solar (USA) Inc. asked for an exclusion for high-density modules (HDM) modules, which the company said are more efficient than standard modules. As a result, it is a higher priced product, “at least a dozen cents per watt higher than conventional modules,” the company said, and it makes up “a small portion” of the U.S. market.

In 2017, about 20 MW of HDM modules were sold in the U.S. “The target markets in the United States are the residential solar system market and the commercial market,” Canadian Solar said.

Bedford, Mass.-based 1336 Technologies is seeking an exclusion for products based on its direct-wafer technology, in which it has partnered with Hanwha Q CELLS.

Japanese multi-national corporation Panasonic is seeking an exemption for its “solar roof” product to be used by the solar-leasing and installation company, Tesla. The panels “can be clearly differentiated from the conventional lower-efficiency, low-priced imports using conventional technology that have caused the harm to petitioners,” the filing said.

Panasonic and Tesla are building a $5 billion production facility in Buffalo, N.Y., which is projected to employ 1,500 people, according to the filing. Panasonic is covering the capital costs. It will, however, take several years to ramp up production, and in the interim, Panasonic wants to import panels.

“The initial investment decision was premised on certain market information and expectations, including the availability of a certain volume of imported product during the initial ramp-up period,” Panasonic said.

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