Solar World benefits from tariff
Hillsboro-based SolarWorld Americas got some much-needed good news on Monday, after President Donald Trump approved a series of tariffs on solar products imported into the U.S., potentially saving the company from closure.
The company is hiring back workers and planning to ramp up its production now that Trump has approved a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels.
"My administration is committed to defending American companies," President Trump said before signing a proclamation of import duties on Tuesday, "and they've been very badly hurt from harmful import surges that threaten the livelihood of their workers."
SolarWorld laid off hundreds last year as it struggled to stay open amid a trade dispute with Chinese competitors, which SolarWorld argued have flooded the market with cheap products, forcing it and other American-made manufacturers out of business.
On Monday, Jan. 22, the Office of the United States Trade Representative announced the Trump administration had approved a 30 percent tariff on foreign-made solar products. However, the tariffs will decrease by 5 percentage points each year through 2021. The tariffs wouldn't take place until a certain base level of imports was reached, totalling 2.5 gigawatts of potential electricity, as long as they are manufactured into panels in the U.S.
The imposed tariff is less than SolarWorld, the nation's largest solar panel manufacturer, had hoped to hear. The company and Georgia-based manufacturer Suniva had asked the federal government for 50 percent tariffs on foreign-made solar panels, saying that was what was necessary for American solar manufacturers to compete.
Still, SolarWorld is hiring back hundreds of laid-off employees, and attorney Tim Brightbill, who helped the company make the case for tariffs, said the company is hoping to come back from a low of just 300 workers to 800 or 1,000, depending on "how well the tariffs work and how strong solar demand is."
"SolarWorld Americas appreciates the hard work of President Trump, the U.S. trade representative, and this administration in reaching today's decision, and the president's recognition of the importance of solar manufacturing to America's economic and national security," said SolarWorld CEO and President Juergen Stein in a statement. Stein said the company was looking into the impacts of Monday's decision.
"We are still reviewing these remedies, and are hopeful they will be enough to address the import surge and to rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States," Stein said. "We will work with the U.S. government to implement these remedies, including future negotiations, in the strongest way possible to benefit solar manufacturing and its thousands of American workers to ensure that U.S. solar manufacturing is world-class competitive for the long term."
SolarWorld has argued for years that subsidized Chinese-made imports had undermined the company's ability to conduct business. The German-owned company laid of hundreds of employees from its Hillsboro manufacturing facility last year after its parent company, SolarWorld AG, filed for insolvency in Europe.
After the layoffs, SolarWorld signed onto a complaint with Suniva made with the U.S. International Trade Commission, asking for steep tariffs on foreign-made solar products in order to push back against foreign solar companies.
The ITC ruled in September that cheap foreign solar imports had caused "serious injury" to the U.S. solar industry and proposed a series of tariffs to the Trump administration last fall.
The issue has deeply divided the solar industry, with some arguing the tariffs could have unintended consequences, including rising costs for solar panel installation, and could lead to the elimination of thousands of jobs.
Some analysts are predicting the four-year tariff will result in a 10 to 15 percent decline in U.S. solar installations.
The Solar Energy Industries Association and others have estimated the U.S. markets could see higher costs, and the loss of 88,000 jobs in installation, sales and construction.
SolarWorld and Suniva argued that, as more than two dozen solar panel manufacturers closed their doors over the last five years, imports of foreign-made products have quintupled.
Most of these products, SolarWorld has argued, come from China, which has seen a 700 percent increase in exports of solar panels to the U.S. during that time, according to International Trade Commission data.
Cassandra Profita, of Tribune news partner Oregon Public Broadcasting, contributed to this report.
By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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