Yesterday, SolarWorld, a German photovoltaic panel firm with a substantial number of manufacturing facilities in the U.S, along with a consortium of other unnamed parties, held a press conference to announce a trade action against foreign solar manufacturers -- alleging that "illegal activities" have caused "job cuts, losses in shipments and harm in operating margins." The allegations from CASM also contend that "[t]he surge in foreign solar cells imports has resulted in the elimination of thousands of jobs in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania."
The name of the group is Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) and it looks to be the opening salvo in a U.S.-China WTO trade war. It was no coincidence that the announcement occurred during the biggest U.S. solar trade show, Solar Power International, being held this week in Dallas, Texas.
It's a difficult time for solar manufacturers -- see the second quarter financial wrap-up we did here. Notice that Chinese firms such as Suntech also appear to suffering.
But contrary to what may seem to be indicated by SolarWorld's action or Solyndra's demise, solar is one of the bright spots in the U.S economy -- the U.S solar industry employs more than 100,000 people. That hardly jibes with the "elimination of thousands of jobs" claimed by the SolarWorld consortium.
As per a study co-authored by GTM Research and SEIA, the U.S. is a significant net exporter of solar products. That doesn't seem to be compatible with the claim made by Gordon Brinser, the president of SolarWorld Americas, that "China has a plan for our market: to gut it and own it." His consortium asked the U.S. government to place duties of more than 100 percent on Chinese-made solar cells and modules. The other members of the consortium have not been named, but we welcome your suggestions as to who they might be -- and why they haven't chosen to reveal themselves.
The two prominent American solar companies, First Solar and SunPower, have not joined the coalition. First Solar remarked in an email to Greentech Media, "We are a global firm, and in our experience the industry and our customers benefit most when trade is free and fair and all participants operate on a level playing field. That supports a sustainable market for affordable solar power."
Arno Harris of Recurrent Energy weighs in with the comment, "Let’s be honest: this is an attempt by a manufacturer who can’t cut it in today’s market to use trade barriers to keep out competition. The U.S. [solar industry] now employs over 100,000 Americans and is growing at a rapid rate. That growth is the direct result of cost reductions driving demand. Initiating a trade war now would be ironic and counterproductive and would likely destroy jobs, not create them."
What Adam Browning of Vote Solar said bears repeating: a solar trade fight is a "circular firing squad where everyone gets hurt." Browning is a policy and regulatory expert working for a U.S. solar industry-supporting policy group.