Military leaders join fight ahead of solar trade decision

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2017

A group of former U.S. military officials are urging the Trump administration to reject solar tariffs, sending one of many letters flying this week ahead of a long-awaited ruling.

The U.S. International Trade Commission is set to decide Friday whether two solar manufacturing companies are experiencing “serious injury” because of a flood of cheap solar imports, primarily from Asia.

The companies, Suniva Inc. and SolarWorld Americas, are asking for tariffs that could double the prices of solar panels from abroad (E&E News PM, April 26). If the ITC finds injury and makes recommendations on a remedy, the issue will head to the president, who many suspect would support tariffs (Greenwire, Aug. 28).

The letter from former members of all four service branches notes the military is the largest consumer of energy and is following a federal law calling for the Defense Department to procure 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

“The DOD utilizes electricity generated from renewable and alternative sources, including large-scale solar photovoltaic systems, to directly power military bases,” said the letter, backed by the Energy Trade Action Coalition.

The missive follows a spat this week between Suniva and the Solar Energy Industries Association, which said in a filing with the ITC that Suniva and SolarWorld failed to provide an adjustment plan on how they would function after import relief.

“They are looking for a government bailout and they have zero plan for how they are going to function if they do get a bailout. That is a fundamental misuse of a government program,” said SEIA head Abigail Ross Hopper. The group opposes tariffs, saying higher panel costs could cut thousands of solar jobs.

Suniva said SEIA’s allegations should be rejected as untimely. There is no legal requirement to file an adjustment plan and details of its restructuring would come out as part of bankruptcy proceedings, it said.

“With an affirmative vote on injury from the Commission, Suniva fully intends to complete its restructuring, and with an effective remedy in place, will resume manufacturing operations,” the company letter said.

President Trump has not spoken publicly about the case but said in the Oval Office earlier this year, “Bring me some tariffs,” in response to staff inquiries about a China IT case. Observers said the comment signaled he would likely support Suniva and SolarWorld’s claims.

A broad coalition exists against tariffs, with environmentalists, solar companies and conservative groups joining together in opposition. In a policy brief today, the R Street Institute said new import restrictions would lead to retaliation from trading partners.

At an ITC hearing last month, opponents outweighed supporters, although Suniva and SolarWorld have backers such as the Steel Manufacturers Association.

Members of Congress have split both ways. Some lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and six others who sent a letter last month, said they were sympathetic to a finding of injury.