Commerce places tariffs on Chinese-made wind towers

Source: Gabriel Nelson, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Commerce Department ruled today that China has given improper subsidies to makers of steel towers used in utility-scale wind turbines, siding with American manufacturers and intensifying a trade dispute that is roiling the renewable energy industry.

The tariffs that Commerce plans to place on Chinese imports at U.S. borders range from 13.74 percent to 26 percent, several times higher than the equivalent tariffs being placed on Chinese solar panels.

Today’s decision responds to a complaint from four U.S. manufacturers of utility-scale wind towers who say they’re losing business to Chinese-subsidized rivals. The members of the Wind Tower Trade Coalition — Broadwind Towers Inc., DMI Industries, Katana Summit LLC and Trinity Structural Towers Inc. — called for tariffs of more than 60 percent to offset the benefits that Chinese exporters get from those subsidies.

“These are roughly what we expected, and these are significant margins,” Dan Pickard, a partner at the law firm Wiley Rein LLP who represents the American manufacturers, said of today’s decision on countervailing duties.

Commerce still needs to decide whether Chinese and Vietnamese manufacturers are “dumping” their wind towers, or selling them at lower prices abroad to gain an edge in the fast-growing international market for wind turbines. A ruling on anti-dumping tariffs is expected at the end of July, a week before the Aug. 4 date when Commerce will decide whether to finalize today’s ruling.

The steel towers covered by the complaint are at least 50 meters (164 feet) high and support turbines that generate at least 100 kilowatts of electricity apiece. Last year, the United States imported $222 million worth of them from China.

The trade skirmishes have multiplied over the past two years as the administration and U.S. trade coalitions have filed complaints over Chinese supports for renewable energy. President Obama made note of the push in his State of the Union address this year, saying it’s unfair that foreign manufacturers “have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.”

“I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules,” Obama said. “We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration — and it’s made a difference.”

Earlier this month, Commerce hit Chinese solar panels with anti-dumping tariffs ranging from 31 to 250 percent, following an earlier decision to set smaller countervailing duties of 3 to 5 percent (Greenwire, May 17).

China lashed out at the United States for “trade protectionism” and quickly ruled that California, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington state all violated trade rules themselves with their renewable energy programs.

This trade dispute may not have much effect on the domestic wind industry anytime soon. Developers have few U.S. projects lined up now because they wouldn’t be finished in time to qualify for a lucrative tax credit that expires at year’s end.

But in the long term, the decision could open up a rift similar to the one that has formed in the solar industry. Opponents of the trade cases brought by American and multinational manufacturers have loudly argued that any Chinese subsidies for solar panels just make them cheaper to install in the United States.

A spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, the largest trade group for the wind industry, did not respond to a message seeking comment on today’s Commerce ruling by press time.