Failing solar firm threatens industry

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Suniva, a bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, is using an obscure provision in federal law known as Section 201 of the International Trade Act to try to save its business — at the cost of up to 88,000 jobs in America’s clean energy industry.

Solar is an American success story. Last year, it was the No. 1 source of new electricity capacity for America and created 51,000 jobs and $23 billion in investment. The solar industry employs over 260,000 Americans. Solar is powering homes and businesses, farms and factories, and entire towns.

My company, Ideal Energy, is part of this success story. We employ 30 people in Fairfield and have installed solar for hundreds of customers over the last eight years.

However, the success of the solar industry is under threat. Two failing solar cell and panel manufacturers are hanging their hopes on Section 201, last used in 2002 to create a temporary tariff on imported steel.

Suniva, a bankrupt Chinese-controlled company, and SolarWorld, whose German parent company has declared insolvency, are failing for reasons unrelated to imports. The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) found that these companies’ troubles were caused by self-inflicted wounds.

Tariffs on solar panels may not help these companies, and they won’t help them without damaging the American solar industry. Many of those damaged would be other American manufacturers. If these two companies prevail, 88,000 well-paid Americans could be jobless next year with no guarantee of Suniva or SolarWorld adding any jobs, according to SEIA. Researchers at the CITAC Foundation found that the 2002 steel tariffs caused job losses for over 200,000 American steel and manufacturing workers.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance says the tariffs, if imposed as Suniva has asked, would double the cost of solar panels. This would crush demand for solar. IHS Markit says the case could slash photovoltaic demand by 60 percent by 2021. GTM Research says it could lead to the abandonment of 47 gigawatts of future solar projects — that’s more than the total amount of solar installed in the United States and enough electricity to power 10 million homes.

The proposed tariffs would hurt homeowners and businesses by denying them the opportunity to save money by investing in solar.

Iowa could lose out on the benefits of solar. Some of our customers are saving over $100,000 per year in utility costs — savings they’ve reinvested in training and benefits for their employees, buying new equipment, and hiring more workers. Solar leads to economic growth and new jobs.

We want to see the American solar industry continue to thrive, which is why we are against these tariffs. The American solar industry needs U.S. manufacturing and local companies, as well as the ability to tap into the global supply chain.

I urge the ITC to decide against this so-called “remedy” and instead support the best interests of American businesses and the quarter-million American solar workers and their families.

• Troy Van Beek is founder and CEO of Ideal Energy.

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