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Montag, 10. Juli 2017

South Carolina solar industry weighs in on international trade case that could increase cost of panels

South Carolina solar industry weighs in on international trade case that could increase cost of panels

COLUMBIA — President Donald Trump's promise to put America first could make a victim out of the emerging solar energy industry in South Carolina.
The issue involves an effort to raise the price of foreign solar panels by way of new tariffs.
In response, advocates for the industry have asked the state's two U.S. senators to denounce the type of trade protectionism Trump promoted widely on the stump to save American manufacturing.
The S.C. Solar Business Alliance sent letters to U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott last month asking both Republicans to oppose a request by a bankrupt solar panel manufacturer that could place hefty tariffs on cheaper imports from Mexico, Canada and China.
Neither senator's office were able to respond to the letter by late Friday.
The petition for trade relief, filed by the bankrupt manufacturer Suniva with the International Trade Commission, already has split the United States' solar industry.
Bigger manufacturers, such as Solarworld, the country's largest producer of panels, is supporting the request, while smaller-scale solar installers oppose it since cost-boosting tariffs could ruin much of their business.
"We do know that any actions that artificially raise the price of solar modules will have a substantial negative impact on one of South Carolina’s fastest growing industries, wiping out years of growth in the process," Jarrett Branham, the vice chairman of South Carolina's solar business alliance, told the senators.
No manufacturers in South Carolina would benefit by limiting foreign imports of solar panels, their letter said.
But the industry also fears that Trump's well-documented animus toward international trade deals and insistence that his administration will revive manufacturing around the country, could make solar a tug-of-war test case for the White House.
"There is a deepening concern that the administration would favor this type of trade case because of his campaign promises," said Bret Sowers, vice president of Charleston-based Southern Current.
In recent years, cheap solar panel imports from China have fueled a boom in solar power throughout the United States in both larger utility-scale projects and common residential roof-top installations. Utility-scale solar made up 28.5 percent of the additional power generating infrastructure that went online in the U.S. in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
For the last three years alone, federal data shows that power from small-scale solar installations has increased by 73 percent. When combined, it would be capable of producing more than two times the electricity as the existing V.C. Summer nuclear reactor near Jenkinsville.
And while much of the growth has been in Western states like California, the Palmetto State also has seen its solar installations on the rise. Data from the Solar Energy Industry Association shows more than 106 megawatts of solar power were installed in the state in 2016 — enough to power roughly 14,000 homes in South Carolina for a year.
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In its complaint to the International Trade Commission, Suniva, which operated a factory in Georgia, argues Trump should set a higher floor price for panels and tack on a 40-cent tariff for every watt that foreign panels can produce.
That could mean foreign solar panels purchased for use in South Carolina could increase by hundreds of dollars, in some cases doubling the price of on-the-board projects, industry officials say.
"Increasing imports have taken a larger share of the market from domestic producers and have led to bankruptcies, plant shutdowns, layoffs and severe deterioration of the financial performance of the domestic industry," Suniva's attorneys wrote in the company's petition.
To make their case about the potential damage of a trade war, South Carolina's solar industry is also noting the possible harm to business through the Port of Charleston. Any tariff placed on Chinese solar panels would have a negative effect on solar imports and could lessen other international trade, they argue.
"We ask that you consider 'the whole' vibrant South Carolina solar industry, and help your colleagues understand that a limited win for Suniva and Solarworld would have far‐reaching negative impacts for the whole industry at a critical time of its emergence as a leading economic driver for the State," Branham told the senators in his letter.
Sowers, the Southern Current executive, sees this tariff fight as an even bigger challenge to the industry than the federal tax credits that solar proponents successfully extended in 2015.
"This trade case is an example of one failed company’s quest to extort U.S. trade law to receive a bailout at the expense of the hundreds of thousands of hard working Americans employed by the thousands of small businesses in the solar industry," he said.

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