Tariffs would cost 88K jobs — trade group

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, June 16, 2017

The U.S. would lose a third of its solar jobs if the Trump administration adopts tariffs under consideration by the U.S. International Trade Commission, according to data released by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Overall, an estimated 88,000 jobs would disappear if American manufacturer Suniva Inc. is successful in its trade case in favor of the new tariffs, SEIA said.

Even though the trade group represents an array of solar companies, leaders are not siding with Suniva, concerned about the effects of tariffs on the industry as a whole.

“Rather than help the industry, the action would kill many thousands of American jobs and put a stop to billions of dollars in private investment,” said SEIA President Abigail Ross Hopper.

Suniva, which is based in Georgia but majority-owned by a Chinese company, filed the trade case in April after filing for bankruptcy.

The solar manufacturing industry has been hit by a flood of cheap imports from Asia in particular (E&E News PM, April 26). Manufacturers say they can’t compete unless modules are at a higher price point.

Suniva requested a price floor on foreign-made panels and tariffs of 40 cents a watt on solar cells made outside the U.S. over a four-year period. SolarWorld Americas Inc. later joined the case as co-petitioner.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and companies have also reported that resulting price hikes on panels could stifle solar demand.

SEIA said that with tariffs, California would see about 15,800 lost jobs, the most of any state. South Carolina could lose 7,000 jobs, or 88 percent of its solar workforce, and Texas could lose 6,300 positions. Oregon could lose 5,800 jobs. Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and New York all could see more than 3,000 eliminated positions. The U.S. solar industry has about 260,000 total workers.

SEIA forecast that the utility market would see jobs decline by 60 percent, while residential and commercial employment would both fall by about 45 percent. The solar manufacturing industry — which the tariffs are designed to help — wouldn’t gain jobs, the group said.

“Our estimates show that even in the states where Suniva and its lone supporter, SolarWorld, have operations, if the petition succeeds, there would be many more jobs lost than expected gains for two struggling companies,” said Hopper.

Suniva did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘Dire warnings’

SolarWorld Americas spokesman Ben Santarris said in a statement that “we have heard the same dire warnings at various junctures in our fight to restore fair trade on U.S. soil, but the solar industry has kept right on growing and thus reality has proven the warnings wrong.”

The Commerce Department imposed higher tariffs on Chinese solar panels in 2015, after an earlier complaint from SolarWorld. That case was different, however, and did not target the global market or require proof of “serious injury,” as Suniva’s claim does.

The ITC is expected to make a decision on the Suniva case by September. If the body finds relief is necessary, the recommendation would head to President Trump in November for a decision.

Suniva has come under criticism from multiple solar companies and the Chinese firm that owns most of its stock (Energywire, May 17).

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Hugh Bromley said in an interview las month that both companies rely on dated production lines with low levels of automation. “Both firms are producing Cadillacs and wondering why they can’t compete against a Toyota Corolla,” he said.

Some members of Congress are backing Suniva.

In a letter last month, Reps. Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.) and Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said there have been hundreds of job losses in their congressional districts because of the saturation of cheap foreign imports.

“The devastation of the U.S. solar panel manufacturing industry will negatively impact communities, like ours, where manufacturing occurs and weaken America’s technological advantage,” the lawmakers said.