Solar's War of Words

Before the trade bullets are fired

Bill Opalka | Jan 10, 2012


The war of words in the brewing solar trade war is heating up, just in time for a key date in the government’s consideration of duties that could be imposed on Chinese solar cell exports.

The next key date is Thursday, when the U.S. Department of Commerce could determine whether preliminary duties should be imposed on imported solar modules and cells. The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), a new group, has led the charge.
China isn’t the only target as different factions of the American industry have chosen sides and aimed fire at each other.

In preparation for the pending ruling, a new opposing group, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), has once again called for a stop to the complaint.

“CASE is making U.S. policymakers aware of recent comments by independent analysts and U.S. company officials who rely on exports to China for their business and jobs in many states around the country to demonstrate how destructive SolarWorld’s petition is,” said Jigar Shah, CASE president. “It is not only companies that are part of CASE, but companies that export to China and U.S. companies that are expanding business and hiring workers based on decreasing costs of solar components.”

Semiconductor manufacturers and polysilicon exporters like Dow Corning say the damage from higher tariffs would ripple across multiple industries as well as harm the growing solar industry just when prices are becoming competitive with traditional fuel sources.

According to CASE, a trade war is increasingly likely as recent events demonstrate.
In response to the U.S. trade case, Chinese polysilicon manufacturers are seeking tariffs on U.S. exports of polysilicon (most of which is produced in Michigan, Tennessee and Washington) which amounted to $873 million in 2010, nearly equal to the solar panels shipped to the U.S.

Similarly, local manufacturers in India are complaining about dumping and preferential financing from Beijing and Washington for thin-film manufacturers, the largest of which is U.S.-based First Solar. India is expected soon to initiate an anti-dumping probe.

And U.S. manufacturers of wind tower turbines have recently started actions against China and Vietnam claiming dumping has occurred in that industry..

In response to a previous. letter from the anti-trade case faction of the industry, Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc. and leader of CASM, mocked a recent letter from .

"SolarWorld, in conjunction with the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), supported by over 150 associate members from 14 states employing over 11,000 U.S. workers, view today's letter as inappropriate bluster from Jigar Shah, who speaks on behalf of the Chinese manufacturers. Mr. Shah and these Chinese manufactures are well aware that their illegal trade practices are harming the U.S. economy and causing thousands of good manufacturing jobs to be lost. SolarWorld and CASM believe that companies and countries who break U.S. and international trade law should be held accountable, and the rule of law should be upheld, in order to maintain a sustainable solar industry in the United States and return healthy global competition to the industry. We are confident that the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission will rule in our favor and, therefore, have no intention of withdrawing our petitions."

The next round of letters probably comes out after the Commerce Department acts.

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Fair Trade

We as a country must move to fair trade as opposed to free trade. The laws, regulations, and standards of countries affect the quality and cost of products produced by them.  China, India, Mexico, etc. do not have the same environmental, human rights, labor, safety, health, etc. laws, regulations, and standards as the US.  This puts the US at a disadvantage in the cost of products produced in the US.  We must insist on fair and balanced trade to counter this.  We should not reduce our standards.

Let us take a broader perspective.  The US must significantly reduce dependence on imported oil (roughly consuming 20 million barrels/day, burning 10 million barrels/day, and producing 5 million barrels/day); to further energy conservation and energy efficiency efforts; increase production of domestic resources of nuclear, coal, oil and gas for production of electric power; and further utilization of sustainable energy such as solar, wind and hydro power.


Merlin C. Stansbury, PE