Trade probe jeopardizes solar industry, lawyers say | Economic news

By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a move that could significantly undermine President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate goals, the Commerce Department said Monday it is investigating whether imports of solar panels from Southeast Asia – Is circumventing anti-dumping rules that limit imports from China.

Clean energy leaders said the investigation – which could result in retroactive tariffs of up to 240% – would severely hamper the U.S. solar industry, resulting in thousands of layoffs and jeopardizing up to 80% of planned solar projects in the United States. Such an outcome would jeopardize one of Biden’s key clean energy goals and runs counter to his administration’s push for renewable energy such as wind and solar.

The Commerce Department’s decision “signals that the Biden administration’s rhetoric about supporting solar power is empty rhetoric,” said Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, a clean energy group. .

Zichal, who served as White House energy adviser under President Barack Obama, called on Biden to immediately reverse the decision. “American solar workers and the clean energy community are watching and will remember,” she said, calling the investigation’s implications “doomsday” for the industry.

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“Overnight, the Commerce Department … drove a stake through the heart of planned solar projects and snuffed out up to 80% of the US solar panel supply,” she said, adding that Biden “needs to fix this now”. ‘

Commerce’s investigation follows a complaint from Auxin Solar, a small California-based manufacturer, which said solar panels assembled in four Southeast Asian countries – Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam – circumvented rules aimed at blocking imports of solar cells and panels from China.

The White House declined to comment, but a Commerce spokesperson said the agency would “conduct an open and transparent investigation to determine whether there was circumvention” of US trade law. “This investigation is only a first step…and no additional duties will be imposed at this time,” spokesman Jeremy Edwards said.

Auxin Solar CEO Mamun Rashid said he was grateful that Commerce officials recognized the need to investigate what he called the “pervasive diverted dumping” of solar panels by China. Solar power makers in smaller Asian countries are using parts produced by Chinese companies to cut costs while circumventing high anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Chinese products, he said.

“For years, Chinese solar producers have refused to set a fair price for their products in the United States and have gone to great lengths to continue to undercut American manufacturers and workers by establishing … operations in countries not covered by these rights,” Rashid said. “Fair trade and enforcing our trade laws are essential to rebuilding America’s solar supply chain and making solar (panels) in America again.”

The Commerce Department action comes weeks after Biden extended tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump on most solar panels imported from China and other countries. In a nod to his efforts to fight climate change and boost clean energy, Biden has ruled out tariffs on some panels used in large-scale utility projects.

Biden’s Feb. 4 announcement continued many Trump-era tariffs, but he exempted so-called bifacial solar panels that can generate electricity from both sides and are now used in many large solar projects. . The technology was still emerging when the tariffs were first imposed by Trump.

Biden also doubled an import quota on solar cells — the main components of panels that go to rooftops and utility sites — to 5 gigawatts, allowing for more imported cells used by domestic manufacturers.

Biden had to choose from competing constituencies on solar power, a key part of his climate and clean energy agenda. Unions back import restrictions to protect domestic jobs, while the solar industry relies heavily on cheap panels imported from Asia.

In a speech this month, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the United States must boost domestic manufacturing of products like solar panels.

“The more we rely on other countries to make things for us, the more vulnerable we become to supply chain disruptions as we have seen over the past two years,” she said on the 15th. March, adding that “at least 95% of the market for the cells that go into the solar panels, the components are estimated to have been produced in China.”

Biden has set a goal to cut emissions of the warming greenhouse gases by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, and solar power is a key part of that agenda. . A report released last year by the Department of Energy says solar power has the potential to supply up to 40% of the nation’s electricity within 15 years, ten times more than solar generation. current.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents solar installers, called Commerce’s investigation a “misstep” that could have a devastating impact on the U.S. solar market and result in dozens thousands of redundancies. The decision could result in retroactive tariffs of up to 240%, a possibility according to Hopper that would have an immediate and “crippling effect on the solar industry.”

Additional tariffs could lead to the loss of 70,000 American jobs, including 11,000 manufacturing jobs, she said, and could lead to a dramatic decline in solar installations and a corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions. global warming from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

“Solar prices are rising, federal climate legislation has stalled, and trade restrictions are now getting worse,” Hopper said. “Commerce should quickly end this investigation to mitigate the harm it will cause to American workers and our nation’s efforts to combat climate change.”

Trump endorsed tariffs on imported solar power components in 2018, saying his administration would always defend American workers and businesses against unfair competition. Tariffs were initially set at 30%, then reduced to 18%, then 15%. They were to expire without action from Biden.

According to Biden’s decision, tariffs will be set at 14.75% and gradually reduced to 14%.

Since the tariffs were imposed, the production of solar panels in the United States has tripled. Chinese and South Korean companies have set up factories in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, and an American company, First Solar Inc., has expanded domestic production at a factory in Ohio.

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