This just in.

The Department of Commerce has found that China has in fact unfairly subsidized its solar industry. The countervailing duties assigned to the Chinese solar vendors are as follows:

  • Trina, 4.73 percent
  • Suntech, 2.9 percent
  • All others, 3.59 percent

 

These figures come from sources close to SolarWorld. We are in the process of verifying with the DOC.

The China-U.S. trade dispute officially started

on October 19 last year with SolarWorld's announcement of the claim during Solar Power International in Dallas. We've covered the issue in detail.

So it's somewhat fitting that the first pronouncement and preliminary verdict from the Department of Commerce on countervailing duties occurred today while many in the solar industry are gathered on the West Coast at PV America. The claim by SolarWorld and its partners in CASM alleges that China's administration subsidizes crystalline silicon PV solar cells and modules with low-cost loans, cash, and inexpensive energy in order to unfairly push U.S. vendors from the market.  

And the Obama administration's Department of Commerce officially agrees. But these are surprisingly low numbers. Analysts had expected to see duties in the range of 20 percent to 30 percent.

Today's finding is only part one of the process: the margin finding. As Shayle Kann, Managing Director of GTM Solar Research, said, "There will ultimately be an additional finding in the anti-dumping case, and that margin (if found) will be stacked on top of the margin found today. So in the end, tariffs are likely to be higher than the relatively small numbers announced today."

As we've written, the short-term result of tariffs on Chinese solar modules could be a stay of execution for marginal U.S. panel manufacturers like those in the CASM group. It may also be an improved situation for stronger vendors such as First Solar and SunPower. The downstream solar ecosystem of installers and financiers like SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity and Clean Power Finance will suffer with higher prices and a corresponding sag in demand.

The bigger impact could be the anti-dumping decision and duties to be imposed in May.

In 2011, imports of solar cells from China were valued at an estimated $3.1 billion, according to the DOC.