Update: ITC presented with CASM testimony against Chinese manufacturers

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Executives from American solar manufacturers, distributors and installers testified before the International Trade Commission demanding Chinese manufacturers be held accountable for the “unmistakable causes of damage to the American solar industry.” They added that without relief, including the application of duties for the surge in imports after the cases were filed, it is unlikely that the American industry can survive.

Hearing witnesses included Gordon Brinser, US president of manufacturing and Kevin Kilkelly, president of sales in the Americas, of SolarWorld, alongside Steven Ostrenga, chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Helios USA. They testified on behalf of the SolarWorld-led Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), which includes about 225 companies employing more than 18,000 workers.

Other witnesses included Brigadier Gen. Michael Caldwell, Oregon Military Department; Joe Morinville, president of Pittsburgh-based installation firm Energy Independent Solutions; Mike McKechnie, president of installation firm Mountain View Solar in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. and Mark Ferda, renewable energy manager for electrical-supply company McNaughton-McKay Electric Co. in Madison Heights, Mich.

Brinser stated that, “SolarWorld has largely failed to realize the benefits of its investments due to the massive surge in dumped and subsidized imports from China that has overtaken the US market in the past few years. 

“In 2008, our Hillsboro site joined our location in southern California, where it had operated since 1975”, he continued. “We ramped up quickly, but the Chinese surge had already begun and prices were quickly dropping. Once we reached full capacity, we expected to be able to stay at that level. Yet, this was not possible. Chinese imports overwhelmed the US market, resulting in a collapse of market pricing and lost sales. 

The US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) shipment report for 2011, published this month, highlights that imports of PV modules shipments totalled 3,323,865kWp in 2011, the largest amount from China at nearly 51%, followed by the Philippines (21%) and Malaysia (16%).

Furthermore, exports of PV module shipments were more than double the amount imported, totalling 793,939kWp.

Brinser drew on statistics to demonstrate the reality of the US plight: “SolarWorld has suffered these setbacks, despite the fact that US demand was growing. US PV installations doubled from 2009 to 2010 and again last year. During the period of investigation, total PV installations in the United States increased by 300% and by the end of this year, the US market is expected to become the third largest in the world.”

The EIA corroborates Brinser’s statement: “Total shipments of PV modules in 2011 hit a record high, increasing from 2,644,498kWp in 2010 to 3,772,075kWp. This represents a nearly 43% increase.”

The EIA report attributes the growth spurt in part to “declining PV cell and module prices caused by competitive pressures.”

“While demand has clearly increased over the period, shutdowns, lost sales and revenues, production declines and layoffs of American workers have become all too common for SolarWorld and the rest of the domestic industry,” persisted Brinser.

Employment in PV-related activities decreased nearly 10%, the EIA report demonstrated, from 17,487 full-time in 2010 to 15,777 FTE in 2011. Based on this, 75 companies released information detailing that they had no change in or higher employment levels, while 45 companies, including several that are no longer in business, had decreases.

Brinser vehemently concluded: “China’s massive, government-funded solar capacity has caused this material injury.” 

However, the EIA report also points out that the number of PV manufacturers in 2011, shipping PV cells and modules has increased by 7%, from 112 companies in 2012 to 120 last year.

The amount of PV modules manufactured in the United States last year also increased by 9% compared to figures from 2010. 

Morinville, president of Energy Independent Solutions, an authorized installer of SolarWorld presented his statement to the ITC: “Our customers are often quoted extremely low prices by installers that use Chinese panels, and we continuously have to try to match falling Chinese prices. As a residential and commercial installer, it has become harder and harder for us to compete with installers using Chinese panels.”

CASM has suggested that 14 US manufacturers have either shuttered operations or were forced to downsize, including Schott Solar’s plant in New Mexico. Fortunately, Schott Solar is currently in negotiations with Solar Works for the assumption of operations, due to resume production early next year.

Morinville said in his testimony that, “Thin film is a less proven technology.  It is physically different.  It also is less efficient and not as well-suited for residential and commercial installations.”

The majority of US manufacturers exiting the solar industry were thin-film manufacturers, unable to compete against the world’s largest thin-film manufacturer, First Solar.

The Coalition has not released details of the manufacturers forced to succumb to bankruptcy.

The global solar industry awaits with baited breath the ITC decision on October 10 which could set a precedent to ongoing investigations against the Chinese in Europe and India, as well as China’s counter investigation against American manufacturers.

Update:

Further to reports of Schott Solar's apparent downfall, the Albuquerque Journal has reported that solar companies in New Mexico have turned to constructing other components for solar installations, such as mounting platforms and solar-tracking systems, apparently in high demand, according to the publication.

“The solar industry has gotten a bad rap that companies are going bankrupt everywhere, but that’s just not justified,” said Peter Lorenz, president and CEO of Unirac Inc. in Albuquerque. “We’ve engineered products and space in different segments of the industry. That provides buffers against ups and downs in other market segments, such as solar panels.”

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