Tariffs, seizures expose U.S. solar industry’s vulnerability to imports By Reuters
By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) – Cheap imports have fueled the U.S. solar industry’s dramatic growth for years. Industry representatives say that trade and transport difficulties are now making it more difficult to import solar panels, which can slow down shipping and put big projects at risk.
Tighter availability of foreign panels could hurt the booming industry and set back President Joe Biden’s effort to decarbonize the nation’s power sector, a centerpiece of his plan to combat climate change. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 90% of U.S.-made solar panels were made abroad.
Among the issues clouding solar’s outlook is an attempt by U.S. authorities to block shipments of panels containing components potentially derived from forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.
An industry source said that hundreds of megawatts worth of solar panels were detained at the border by the Biden administration since June, when it imposed an import ban against China’s Hoshine Silicon Industry Co.
The number of solar products that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has taken into custody is not disclosed. China denies that solar panels are made with forced labor.
A petition was submitted anonymously by a small domestic manufacturing sector asking the U.S. Commerce Department for new tariffs to be imposed on imported panels. The petition is based on allegations that the imports are being dumping at unnaturally low prices.
This week, the Commerce Department will decide whether or not to accept the request. It would impact imports from Vietnam and Thailand as well as Malaysia.
According to the U.S., these tariffs could result in 18 gigawatts being canceled from solar projects. This would be enough power to power over 3 million homes. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
A few domestic manufacturers of solar panels claim they are anonymous due to the possibility of being retaliated against and significant harm from disclosing their identities. The group’s lawyer Tim Brightbill said that the claims of the trade group were exaggerated.
U.S. Solar developers claim, however that Southeast Asian suppliers have reduced their US sales due to fears that they could be subject to retroactive levies from the Commerce Department.
Maritime shipments of solar modules into the United States were already down 11% in August compared to 2020, and down 2% for about the first three weeks of September, according to data from financial information provider S&P Global (NYSE:).
Strata Solar chief executive Markus Wilhelm stated that the company is being “very hard hit” during a Monday press conference organized by SEIA. “We’re completely dependent upon a global supply network, making us more vulnerable.
Swinerton Renewable Energy president George Hershman stated on the call that module producers are not willing to accept purchase orders today. “In the short term, we can’t find the manufacturers of the modules needed to complete projects.”
The global supply crunch caused by the coronavirus virus pandemic, which already has impacted other industries due to rising costs.
This month, the U.S. sun industry claimed that it was running at record speed despite increased shipping costs and bottlenecks. But that there were new risks that could lead to a slowdown.
Top renewable energy developer Nextera Energy Inc has led the push against the new duties in extensive filings with the Commerce Department, with support from EDF (PA:) Renewables Inc, Clearway, Invenergy and Enel (MI:) Green Power.
Additionally to new tariffs, the U.S. International Trade Commission is expected to decide before the end this year whether it will extend the 2018 Trump Administration tariffs on all panels made in foreign countries.
Five domestic producers asked for the extension. These included U.S. weapons of Hanwha Q CELLS in Korea and LG Electronics in the United States.
JinkoSolar (NYSE 🙂 is one of the most important panel producers in the world. It has come under fire for both potential tariff increases and border seizures.
According to JinkoSolar, some of their solar panels were stopped by U.S. Customs at the border earlier this month. This company is one of the Chinese firms targeted by petitioners seeking tariff increases.
Roth Capital Partners analyst Philip Shen has reduced the price target of JinkoSolar to $51 from $58 since Sept. 16 due to “one-two” reasons.
JinkoSolar declined to comment on a request.