Finding “injury” in the solar manufacturing trade case brought by Suniva and Solar World means the ITC attributed financial problems to the low cost of imported solar panels. It’s now up to President Trump to accept, amend or reject.
However, Solar PV panel manufacturing has been on decline for a number of years. In fact, the rapid decline in module prices worldwide has more to do with the oversupply in the market than import pressure. Prices fell so fast, manufacturers couldn’t recover costs of production.
The solution is not setting high minimum prices for imported solar modules. Instead, this action would be a huge blow to solar industry jobs.
The ITC made the ruling despite a bi-partisan group of US Senators urging the ITC to not impose tariffs on solar panels. Their letter stated, “Increasing costs will stop solar growth dead in its tracks, threatening tens of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and jeopardizing billions of dollar in investment in communities across the country.”
As we know in the industry, solar companies have never enjoyed large margins, so a drastic slow down could kill many businesses. Greentech Media predicts the remedies requested by the petition “would eliminate half of potential solar deployments over their term in exchange for limited new domestic module manufacturing.”
At its peak, Suniva employed 400 workers. Bringing back US manufacturing will create jobs, but not many. Companies interested in solar manufacturing will likely be highly automated. For example, K’NEX has 110 presses to make their toys. It only takes 8 operators to work on the floor.
Bringing manufacturing back to the US takes “low triple-digit millions” investment. Cost that must be recovered within the four year “remedy” period. According to the article “Six Ways to Encourage American Solar Manufacturing Without Import Duties,” government policies designed to stimulate local manufacturing would do more to support the industry. Ideas include investment tax credits, expanding federal procurement, direct support for domestic manufacturing, loan guarantees, subsidizing the supply chain and supporting workforce and technology development.