Solar companies form coalition in response to anti-trade complaint

More than two dozen solar organizations have formed the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) in response to an anti-trade action filed by SolarWorld and six other unnamed solar panel manufacturers that the group says threatens the entire U.S. solar industry. Kevin Lapidus, senior vice president of legal and government affairs for Sun Edison, and one of the Coalition founders, said that the coalition already comprises 9 percent of U.S. solar employees.

SolarWorld and the other manufacturers filed a complaint with the Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on Oct. 19 alleging that Chinese solar panel makers and cell manufacturers are making it hard to compete in the U.S. market. The companies claim Chinese panel makers and cell manufacturers are receiving unfair subsidies from the Chinese government and dropping their prices at artificially low levels.

During a press call on Nov. 8, Lapidus said that SolarWorld and the other companies that filed the complaint have not taken into consideration a number of issues that have caused the continuing price decline of solar modules. These issues include declining incentives for solar developments in the U.S., the pricing for thin-film modules, and the continuing price decline of polysilicone, which has fallen 40 percent in 2011.

“In order to succeed, each step in the production chain must reduce its cost,” Lapidus said. “Only if this is achieved across the entire solar industry can we be successful.”

Tom Doyle, president and CEO of NRG Solar, said that the aggressive solar manufacturing market has surpassed NRG’s expectations of what they thought was possible, and that U.S. developers value that “intense competition” to drive down PV panel pricing.

Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld, says that “artificially low-priced solar products from China are crippling the domestic industry. Massive state subsidies and sponsorship have enabled Chinese manufacturers to illegally dump their products into a wide-open U.S. market.”

The Coalition also claims that SolarWorld and the other companies recently changed their filing with the ITC. “The case previously only focused on solar cells manufactured in China,” Lapidus said. “Now it also includes modules manufactured anywhere in the world, as long as it has a solar cell that was manufactured in China.”

The SolarWorld filing has garnered some strong reaction in the solar market. China’s largest solar developer, CECEP International Technology, told international reporters on Nov. 7 that it was delaying plans to develop $500 million of solar projects in California, Texas and New Jersey.

At a news conference in Beijing, a company official said the potential for tariffs on Chinese solar panels imported into the U.S. made going forward too risky. “If the solar panel prices increase by, say 30 percent in the United States, following the move, then we would certainly drop the plan because there's no profit to be made,” said Cao Huabin, the general manager of CECEP Solar Energy.

CASE represents more than 75 companies, including:  Alpine Solar Energy LLC, AltPOWER Inc., American Solar Systems Inc., Canadian Solar (NASDAQ: CSIQ), Carbon War Room, Carolina Solar Energy LLC, Gaia Worldwide LLC, groSolar, Lighthouse Solar, Lumos, MEMC/SunEdison (NYSE: WFR), PetersenDean, Recurrent Energy, Rochlin Corp., Russell Pacific, SolarCity, SolarFirst Inc., Sungevity, Suntech America, SunRun, Syncarpha Solar LLC., Trina Solar U.S. Inc., Verengo, Westinghouse Solar and Yingli Americas.

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