U.S. Commerce imposes tariffs on Chinese solar firms

By Steve Leone, RenewableEnergyWorld.com Editor

The U.S. Department of Commerce has ruled to impose tariffs in a case that has underscored deep divisions within the American solar industry.

In an announcement on March 20, Commerce said various subsidies to Chinese solar suppliers were identified. By finding export subsidies, critical circumstances will be applied — that means tariffs will be made retroactive, possibly as far back as October 2011. The tariffs will be applied on three levels: 4.73 percent applied to Trina Solar, 2.9 percent to Suntech, and 3.59 percent to all others. Many in the industry had been predicting that 20 to 30 percent tariffs would be applied.

In the trade complaint filed in October, SolarWorld’s American subsidiary and six other solar panel manufacturers claimed that Chinese companies are receiving an unfair level of subsidies from the Chinese government and that they are then dumping their products at below the cost of production into the American market. This, they contend, is stifling solar panel manufacturing in the United States. The case made by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) has been folded into the growing political narrative that America must reclaim its ability to lead in the global arena of manufacturing and innovation.

On the other side, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) says that the overriding goal is to make solar energy as competitive as possible. Low-cost Chinese panels have figured prominently in this race to make solar energy competitive with fossil fuels. Panel prices have dropped by 50 percent in just the past year, and that growth has spurred an installation boom that many in the industry feel is unsustainable if prices spike overnight.

This ruling is the first of two that will ultimately set the overall tariffs. A ruling regarding anti-dumping tariffs is expected by May. The American solar industry is also working to revive a popular Treasury grant that is also credited with fueling the recent solar boom. And now the industry is also fending off a growing political push to repeal all federal energy incentives.

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