By - Jim Vess

Suniva trade cash could slash solar installations, company challenges those estimates

Energize Weekly, July 5, 2017

The push by an U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer to have tariffs slapped on imported solar cells could lead to more than a 50 percent drop in new solar installations between 2018 and 2022, according to analysis by GTM Research.

The company seeking the tariff, Norcross, Ga.-based Suniva Inc., said GTM Research has gotten the figures wrong in its analysis and is demanding a retraction.

In its petition to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), Suniva is seeking a 40 cents a watt tariff on imported solar cells and a minimum floor price of 78 cents a watt.

To gauge the impact of the petition, GTM added the tariff to the minimum floor price for a total price of $1.18 a watt—about the same price solar cells were going for five years ago.

Suniva said that the 40-cent tariff is included in the minimum floor price and is not added to it. “Nowhere in the petition does it request the floor price and tariff interact in this manner,” Suniva said in a statement.

“GTM’s analysis suffers from a fatal flaw in its core assumption,” the Suniva statement said.

GTM is standing by its analysis and said that under just a minimum module price scenario of 78 cents a watt, it projects a decline in installed solar capacity between 2018 and 2022 to 36.4 gigawatts from 72.5 gigawatts.

At $1.18 a watt, the new installed capacity during those years would plunge to 25 gigawatts, according to GTM.

Utility-scale solar is most threatened, with more than 20 gigawatts already at risk of cancellation if module prices go back to those 2012 levels.

In May, Suniva filed a case with the ITC invoking an obscure trade law that doesn’t focus on unfair trade practices, such as selling below cost known as dumping, but rather a demonstration that imports are hurting U.S. manufacturers.

The law gives the president broad power to impose tariffs that could hit not just a single country, but all foreign production. The law has never been used and in theory, requires a higher bar of proof, said Ben Gallagher, a solar analyst with GTM Research.

The ITC is expected to make a decision by Sept. 22. If it finds relief is in order, it will make a recommendation to President Trump by Nov. 13. The president then has 60 days to act.

Suniva has been joined in the petition by Oregon-based SolarWorld. Suniva filed for bankruptcy in April. Its majority owner is the Hong Kong-based solar company, Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd. SolarWorld is a unit of German solar cell maker SolarWorld AG, which filed for bankruptcy in Germany in May.

“GTM’s analysis fails to include any benefit from the restoration of U.S. solar cell and module manufacturing and employment,” Suniva said. “Even if GTM’s analysis is given any credibility, it shows that U.S. solar installations would continue to grow at significant rates under the remedies requested in the 201 petition.”

Suniva said the GTM analysis further shows that solar module prices would stabilize “giving U.S. manufacturers the opportunity to reopen shuttered production facilities and rehire the thousands of American workers who have lost their jobs to the surge in low-priced imports.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the industry’s national trade group, said that the tariffs would cause the loss of 88,000 solar jobs, about a third of all jobs in the sector. That includes losses in solar manufacturing jobs.

“Rather than help the industry, the action would kill many thousands of American jobs and put a stop to billions of dollars in private investment,” SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.

“Our estimates show that even in the states where Suniva and its lone supporter, SolarWorld, have operations, if the petition succeeds, there would be many times more jobs lost than expected gains for two struggling companies,” Hopper said.

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